It’s been 58 years of pain and disappointment for followers of Welsh football, as they tried and failed time and time again to qualify for their first major international tournament since the 1958 World Cup.
However, now the wait is over and the proud nation is heading a short hop across the channel for Euro 2016.
A project begun by the late Gary Speed and continued by current boss Chris Coleman has finally come to fruition with the Welsh scheduled to face Slovakia, Russia and England in a particularly tasty looking group stage.
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Many will expect the Welsh to fall at the first hurdle, but Chris Coleman’s squad should not be underestimated.
The qualifying stages proved that as Wales claimed three points at home to a highly rated Belgium side as well as an impressive 3-0 victory over Israel in Haifa.
With the likes of Aaron Ramsey and some lad named Gareth Bale in the side, can the Welsh be considered dark horses for the tournament?
Well let’s start with Wales’ talismanic forward, Gareth Bale.
In 2013, Real Madrid made Bale the most expensive player in the world, paying upwards of €100 million to prize him from Tottenham Hotspur’s grasp. With 47 goals in 81 appearances for Los Meringues, the price on his head has seemingly not proved a burden on the Cardiff born winger.
It’s not all about attacking prowess though. Wales have one of the sturdiest defences going to France, having conceded only four goals in ten qualifying matches, only one more than current holders Spain and England.
Wales’ number one, Wayne Hennessey is a key part of what has been a back six at times during the campaign. The 29-year-old has been an established member of the Wales squad for some years, and this year saw somewhat of a breakthrough season in the Premier League, as he earned himself the title of Crystal Palace’s first choice ‘keeper.
Despite a disappointing league campaign, Palace made it to the FA Cup final, losing narrowly in extra time to Manchester United. Nevertheless, Hennessey will be hoping to carry his good form into the Euro 2016 campaign.
Wales’ number two, Danny Ward made his breakthrough into Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side this year, making a couple of Premier League appearances after impressing on loan at Aberdeen.
Playing in the back line, one of Premier League's solid centre-backs, Ashley Williams. The captain and fan hero is an integral part to the strength of Wales’ defence. The 31-year-old has been a mainstay in Swansea City’s defence and rarely misses a game for club or country. His no nonsense defensive style and immaculate reading of the game were vital in Wales conceding so few goals.
The centre of the park is occupied by one of Liverpool's underrated players. Joe Allen has the ability to take control of midfield possessing great composure on the ball and generally tidying up play.
Alongside him, another bearded wonder in the shape of Joe Ledley. The Joe’s will be important in providing a direct link to the forwards and keeping a handle on the midfield battle.
Wales' second star man is Arsenal midfielder, Aaron Ramsey. Arguably, this hasn’t been his most stand out season, being directly involved in only 10 Gunner goals. However, his partnership with fellow Cardiff lad Bale has been a massive boost to Wales’ campaign with the majority of goals coming from either ‘Rambo’ or Bale.
To top it off are Wales' forwards. Though their direct contribution to Wales’ success isn’t great compared to others within the squad, they will still be vital to any potential Welsh success.
Sam Vokes fired his Burnley side into the Premier League with 15 goals. His aerial prowess and hold up play will be important to Wales’ counter attacking football.
Though still a youngster, Tom Bradshaw made his international breakthrough after impressing at Walsall, scoring 17 goals as the Saddlers narrowly missed out on promotion to the Championship.
An extra point of excitement is the fact that the 23-year-old is a product of Welsh Premier League side Aberystwyth Town FC’s youth academy, proving the leaps and bounds with which the league is progressing.
So, there’s no question that Wales have the talent at their disposal to cause upsets in France, and given the recent success of Leicester City, a side who were 5000-1 to win the Premier League at the start of the season, anything could happen.
The Welsh could also look at Greece’s success in 2004, as they shocked the continent to win the competition, infamously reducing Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo to tears in the final.
How far can Wales go in Euro 2016? Let us know YOUR thoughts in the comment section below!
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