Wales back in the big time at Euro after nearly 60-year wait


Wales will be participating in its first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup. (Matt Dunham/AP)

Wales has waited nearly 60 years to participate on the big stage, but it finally qualified for a major tournament. In doing so, the Welsh are the highest-ranked British team for the first time in its history. The Dragons will be facing rival England in the group stage, so they will have extra motivation to make a significant impact in their first major tournament since 1958.

Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace), Daniel Ward (Liverpool), Owain Fon Williams (Inverness Caledonian Thistle).
Defenders: Ashley Williams (Swansea), James Chester (West Brom), Ben Davies (Tottenham), James Collins (West Ham), Chris Gunter (Reading), Neil Taylor (Swansea), Jazz Richards (Fulham).
Midfielders: Joe Ledley (Crystal Palace), Joe Allen (Liverpool), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), Jonathan Williams (Crystal Palace), David Edwards (Wolves), George Williams (Fulham), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Andy King (Leicester).
Forwards: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), David Cotterill (Birmingham City), Hal Robson-Kanu (Reading), Simon Church (Aberdeen), Sam Vokes (Burnley).

Chris Coleman succeeded his late friend Gary Speed as manager in 2012. After a successful four-year stint with Fulham, Coleman failed to replicate that success elsewhere until landing the Wales job, where he is making history with the national team.

4-3-3 – (GK) Hennessey – (D) Taylor, Williams, Collins, Gunter – (M) Ledley, Ramsey, Allen – (F) Bale, Vokes, Robson-Kanu

MORE ON EURO 2016: Sportsnet has you covered with in-depth coverage of Euro 2016 in France, which runs from June 10 to July 10.

Match schedule || Group standings || Live scoreboard || Roster lists
Profiles: All 24 teams || History of Euro || Top 10 moments in Euro history

June 11: vs. Slovakia in Bordeaux
June 16: vs. England in Lens
June 20: vs. Russia in Toulouse

Wales lost just one game in qualifying and finished in second place in Group B to automatically qualify for Euro 2016. Its lone defeat came at the hands of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the road.

Wales’ tactical flexibility has allowed it to play with a 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 formation, as well as with three-man defence when necessary. This makes it well-prepared when facing multiple teams over the span of a couple of weeks. They also have a plethora of wide players, especially at full back. This will help the Dragons stretch the field and unlock opposing defences.

The Welsh are loaded at the back and in midfield but do not have an in-form No. 9. Gareth Bale will be relied upon to score, but Sam Vokes, Simon Church and Hal Robson-Kanu have a combined 11 goals between them. Bale has 19.

Gareth Bale: Bale is clearly Wales’ best player and go-to attacker. The Real Madrid forward is in form entering Euro 2016 and will be the main man for the Welsh in France.

Sam Vokes: Coleman has options up front, but Vokes is coming off a promotion to the Premier League with Burnley, having scored 15 goals in the Championship this past season. For those reasons, it would be surprising to see him omitted from the starting XI for Euro 2016.

Chris Gunter: The 26-year-old Reading defender is already one of Wales’ most experienced players. He will likely start at right back. However, Gunter does not play like a modern-day full back. He does not get involved in the attack too often and is quite conservative with his positioning. Given the plethora of attacking talent in the Welsh’s group, especially on Slovakia and England, that could be a blessing.

What formation will Coleman use? The Welsh coaching staff will be satisfied knowing that they can set up the team in a variety of systems. Depending on the form of the centre backs, Wales could deploy a four-man defence. However, given how technical and fast Slovakia and England are, they could benefit by establishing a 3-5-2.

This is a very balanced group. There is no outright favourite, so it’s wide open for any of the four teams. On paper, England is the best side, although Slovakia caused fits for Spain during qualifying. Russia is a lot slower compared to the other nations, which gives Wales an edge. It’s totally plausible for the Welsh to reach the quarterfinals if they can finish in the top two of Group B.


Soccer Central Podcast

Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast (featuring Thomas Dobby, Brendan Dunlop, John Molinaro and James Sharman) takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport’s biggest issues.

Listen now | iTunes | Podcatchers

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.