Written by Rhys Paul
Having taken three points from two thirds of their group games, Wales currently sit on the same number of points as Slovakia and only one point behind group leaders England. For a team who are playing in their first major international tournament for 58 years, they have put in a very respectable showing so far. Before the tournament kicked off, Chris Coleman & co would have gladly accepted such a scenario, particularly since it is one that favours the Welsh Dragons to progress into the Round of 16. Group B is still wide open and, despite that heartbreaking 91st minute defeat to England in their last outing, Wales should fancy their chances against a Russia side they appear more than capable of beating.
credit Jon Candy
On the back of match day two, Wales’ opening victory against Slovakia looks a lot more impressive. This was the same Slovakia side who comfortably dispatched Russia 2-1 and one that looks as if it will cause England difficulties in their crucial clash on Monday. In a very close game against Wales, it must be said that they lost to the better team on the day. Admittedly Gareth Bale’s 10th minute free-kick should have been saved, but the 50 minutes that followed was a period controlled by Wales. Slovakia’s substitutions briefly allowed them to take the initiative following an equaliser on the 61st minute, yet Wales were able to reclaim the lead thanks to Hal Robson-Kanu’s scuffed effort nine minutes from time. In truth, it was a game Wales quite easily could have scored more with Bale and Aaron Ramsey guilty of failing to convert their chances and Jonny Williams had a blatant penalty appeal ignored just after the half hour mark. In a game where both Wales’ goals lacked the quality of other strikers we have seen in the tournament, Ben Davies superb goal-line clearance in the opening minutes was a stand-out moment that helped Wales complete a historic victory that – coupled with the England-Russia result – sent them to the top of the group and a step closer to extending their stay in France.
credit Jon Candy
The game against England went exactly as I expected. Although I didn’t expect England to dominate quite as much as they did, but I did predict Bale to get on the score-sheet in a 2-1 defeat to the Three Lions. Unfortunately, Wales looked out of their depth against England. However, with England needing the win more than their British neighbours, it was probably to be expected. From Coleman’s perspective, it must have been frustrating to see Bale deprived of any real service and the Real Madrid star found himself worryingly isolated for large parts of the contest. Barring a header in injury time, Bale had been restricted to only one chance and it was one he took – albeit fortunately again – with another free-kick in the 42nd minute. The defence failed to hold on for the draw and it was the skipper, Ashley Williams who proved to be the weak link. William’s positioning was to blame for Jamie Vardy’s equaliser and a mistake early in the game threatened to hand England a first minute lead. The result was not disastrous by any means, but the manner of an injury time defeat to their home nation rivals could prove to be a damaging psychological blow.
Player of the Tournament (so far): Aaron Ramsey
Along with Bale, Ramsey is one of the nation’s two leading lights. In both games, he has put in two high-intensity performances with the bleached-hair midfielder the stand-out performer for Wales against England. He has shown he can put in a shift defensively and, as an attacker, he remains one of the team’s most dangerous players. So far he has embodied the team spirit of a determined Welsh outfit and he will be key if Wales are to get out the group and into the knockout stages.
Pros and Cons
+ Gareth Bale – Few teams can claim to have a player of Bale’s calibre in their ranks and he has the ability to win games single-handedly for Coleman. Despite going missing at times in the first two games, he has still found a way to get onto the score-sheet – a sign of a quality player.
+ An effective, team unit – Wales have contributed to what appears to be a smaller deficit between the ‘smaller’ nations and those expected to do well. A lot of this is down to team spirit with Wales functioning effectively as a team who all play for each other and this will play a big part in the rest of their Euro 2016 campaign.
+ Commitment – Linking in with the spirit of the team, the players have shown they are committed to the cause with their displays. This was highlighted with Davies clearance against Slovakia, the midfield’s industrial performances and Ramsey’s willingness to defend more than attack.
– Reliance on Gareth Bale – Despite bagging a goal in each of the games, he was isolated against England and his presence was missed as England were able to increasingly dominate the game. He is clearly the team’s star man, but Wales must find a way of getting Bale into the game or, at least, find a way of exploiting the hole left by the two or three defenders marking him.
– Lack of Quality – In a squad consisting of several Championship players, this always had the potential to be an issue. However, against England, it was Swansea’s Neil Taylor who looked out of his depth as he struggled to deal with Adam Lallana and Kyle Walker, and his distribution and delivery in the final third also failed to hit the standards expected of a player at the Euros.
If the past two matches are anything to go by, Wales should beat Russia to qualify from the group. Russia have been disappointing (an undeserved draw with England was followed by Slovakia outclassing them in a 2-1 defeat), but the behaviour of the supporters has largely overshadowed this. I’m predicting them to respond to the England defeat with a strong start and with Russia making slow starts in both their previous outings, Wales have a good chance of punishing them early on. Bale will see more of the ball and this can only be a good thing for the side, although I think the goals will come from elsewhere on this occasion.
Prediction: 2-1 to Wales
What have you made of Wales’s campaign so far? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Jon Candy