Last month, Wales suffered a painful, agonising defeat to Ireland at the Cardiff City Stadium. The result meant that Wales once again failed to qualify for their first World Cup since Sweden 1958.
Now that the heartache has settled, the Wales squad were in action again this week.
On Friday, Wales played France in the Stade de France, and although Wales lost 2-0, there were many positives to come out of the game. The debuts of Ethan Ampadu and David Brooks, and the continuation of Ben Woodburn in the squad, seems to have signalled a new direction for Welsh football.
Therefore, is this a new start for Wales?
Wales are no longer a one-man team
The one criticism that Wales have received over the years is the fact that they were a one-man team. That one-man of course being Gareth Bale.
Now, there’s no doubting Bale’s importance for Wales. He is a match winner and can produce on the big occasion, as we’ve seen against Slovakia, Scotland and Russia in the past.
But, with Bale’s injury record recently, he hasn’t been able to play for the national team, and this has given the chance over recent games for Wales’ other stars to perform, which they have done exceptionally well.
One thing Wales have had over recent years is a strong spine.
Ashley Williams at the heart of defence has been solid for many years. His leadership on the pitch is unmeasurable. Though he’s been questioned recently over his ability playing for Everton, Williams has always been on top form for his country. Though, at the age of 33, you wonder that the upcoming campaign for Euro 2020 may be Williams’ last run as a Wales player.
Thankfully, Wales are bringing in a lot of talent that, if Williams was to get injured, there will be enough cover for him. The likes of James Chester, Ben Davies, Ethan Ampadu and Tom Lockyer can all do a job at centre-back when Williams is not there.
In the midfield, Wales have many men who can step up to the plate if Bale is not around. Arguably, Wales’ two main men are Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen. Ramsey tends to play further forward for Wales than he does for Arsenal, and it’s a role that he seems to enjoy a lot more, and I don’t understand why Wenger doesn’t play him further forward.
Allen, meanwhile, is quite simply brilliant. Allen is a typical box-to-box midfielder for Wales, and can he covers every blade of grass on the pitch. He knows when to defend, he knows when to attack, and he knows when to sit back and let others play ahead of him.
With Allen and Ramsey in midfield, and Joe Ledley in behind them, it forms a strong midfield that can perform well without Bale, as we’ve seen in games away in Georgia and Serbia in recent times.
Up front, Wales have a choice of two. In a physical game, Chris Coleman will normally put Sam Vokes up front. Vokes has been a consistent performer for Wales over recent years. You know exactly what you’re going to get from him, and he will do that job superbly. The only criticism is his lack of pace, which brings in Wales’ second option up front, in the form of Hal Robson-Kanu.
Robson-Kanu is a fans favourite for Wales, and it’s easy to see why. Though he’s only scored 5 times in 44 appearances for the national team, he is one of the hardest working players on the pitch. He will chase down any ball and many times he will get there and play into the likes of Vokes who will be in the box.
With Bale’s injury record not improving by the looks of it, Wales will need to adapt to life without him, but with the games they’ve already played without their talisman, Wales have performed well, and I hope that they can continue in the same vain in the upcoming matches.
Coleman bringing in fresh faces
Firstly, a word about Chris Coleman.
What he’s done for this national team has been nothing short of unbelievable. Coleman took over in very tough circumstances, and he didn’t have the best of starts as Wales manager, with many fans calling for him to be sacked.
Yet, the FAW stayed with him and he’s produced miracles.
Guiding Wales to their first major tournament since 1958, Wales finished third at Euro 2016 under his management, and that his no fluke. The players love to play under him and the fact that the Welsh players have pleaded for him not to leave says a lot about how much influence he has in the Welsh set up, but I don’t think that Coleman will be leaving anytime soon.
With the youngsters that Coleman has bought in, it makes me think that he’s here for the long run, and wants to set up a good team when the time does come for him to move on.
Ben Woodburn has been a revelation on the wing for Wales. Ever since his first Liverpool goal against Leeds in the League Cup, Coleman was instantly under pressure to put him straight into the first team so that Woodburn wouldn’t be stolen by England. But, Coleman was relaxed about the situation, and when the time came against Austria, Woodburn well and truly delivered.
Coleman, as I’ve mentioned before also gave debuts to Chelsea’s Ethan Ampadu and Sheffield United’s David Brooks against France, and they gave an assured performance in an atmosphere that could have overwhelmed them, and if it wasn’t for a string of great saves from Steve Mandanda in the second half, Wales could’ve got something from the game.
For the game against Panama on Tuesday night, Coleman had other youngsters like Tom Lockyer, Danny Ward, Marley Watkins, Lee Evans, Ryan Hedges and Tom Lawrence available at his disposal, and what a time to play all of this young talent.
Though Wales aren’t heading for a World Cup in 2018, there are still a lot of positives to take.
They’ve proven to the world that this most certainly isn’t Gareth Bale’s team and that they can still perform above expectations without the Real Madrid forward.
Add to this the youngsters that Coleman is bringing into the squad, it’s difficult as a Wales fan not to get excited again by all of these prospects getting their chance so early on in their footballing careers.
This certainly is a new dawn for Welsh football.
Written by Sion Misra
Follow Sion on Twitter @sionmisra
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