Wales head into this summer’s European Championship looking to recreate the magic of France 2016.
Playing in only their second-ever major tournament and the first since the 1958 World Cup, the Dragons (then managed by Chris Coleman) defied all expectations by reaching the semi-finals, topping a group containing England, Slovakia and Russia before dumping out Northern Ireland and Belgium in the knockout rounds. Wales were finally eliminated by eventual winners Portugal but returned from France with their heads held high.
Since then, Wales have disappointingly missed out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but qualified for this tournament via Group E, finishing second only to Croatia with 14 points and just two defeats from eight games. Wales also earned promotion to Division A of the Uefa Nations League for the 2022/23 season and had a mixed start to World Cup qualifying.
So, can Wales emulate their 2016 success this summer? Let’s take a look at what they’ll bring to Euro 2020.
The best players Wales will bring to Euro 2020
Despite not featuring at all in the Premier League for Leicester City so far, with his time on the pitch exclusively coming in cup competitions, Danny Ward has continued to pick up caps for Wales. In fact, the former Liverpool man took up the gloves in Wales’ last four competitive fixtures, keeping three clean sheets and putting in a particularly impressive performance during a 1-0 win over the Republic of Ireland in November. Ward is by no means the nailed on No.1 but if selected, Wales will be getting a proactive ‘keeper who commands his box, is a proficient shot-stopper and can play accurate long balls to get Wales up the pitch quickly.
Arriving from Swansea City for £11m in October 2020, Joe Rodon has slowly but surely made his presence felt at Tottenham Hotspur this season. Understandably not the s first-choice centre-back just yet, the 23-year-old had a healthy run of games between the end of October and January during an injury crisis, and helped Spurs to five clean sheets during his first five appearances for the club. At international level, Rodon has started Wales’ last six competitive games, conceding four goals during that time (three coming against Belgium).
Regardless of how many more minutes he gets at Spurs, Rodon is sure to marshal the Welsh defence at the Euros this summer.
It’s been a very mixed bag at Juventus so far for Aaron Ramsey, who has been in and out of the starting XI since joining from Arsenal in 2019. Both Maurizio Sarri and Andre Pirlo have shifted him around various midfield positions to try and find his best spot, but the 30-year-old has thus far struggled to hold down a regular role, morphing into something of a utility man.
But Pirlo has often been quick to defend Ramsey, who he claims ‘makes everyone play well’ but needs to have his minutes carefully managed to avoid injuries and burnout.
“Aaron, we have to carefully manage him, we have to let him rest,” said Pirlo. “But when he is 100 per cent he can be decisive, I prefer to always have him on the pitch. He makes everyone play well but he has to be managed athletically.”
At his best, Ramsey can offer Wales the ultimate box-to-box option. Famous for his late arrivals into the box, Ramsey has 16 goals in 61 caps to his name so far, including a brace against Hungary during qualification for this tournament. But the former Arsenal man is also an extremely underrated defensive piece, averaging 1.81 tackles per 90 minutes in Serie A this season and, when he’s fully fit, he’ll always put in the hard yards.
It’s hard to imagine Wales going far this summer without Ramsey.
Is there a single player more important to their nation’s chances of success this summer than Gareth Bale? Even without Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal still have an incredible squad capable of going all the way, and the same could be said for the likes of England without Harry Kane and France without Kylian Mbappe. But for Wales, it’s almost certainly a case of no Bale no party.
The Tottenham Hotspur loanee has scored more goals (33) than any other player in the history of the Welsh national team, while Ramsey is the only other player to receive a call-up within the past 12 months with more than five goals to their name.
Bale’s temporary return to Spurs initially looked to be a miserable one but after a barrage of criticism from pundits, the 31-year-old exploded into life in February, with a goal and assist against Wolfsberger in the Europa League kick-starting a wonderful run in the final third for the former Southampton youngster.
With three goals in the group stages, Bale was one of the stars of Wales’ run at Euro 2016, while his trophy cabinet (packed out with four Champions League titles and two La Liga medals) serves to show just how much pedigree and experience he can offer to this young squad. If Bale turns up, Wales could cause a few more shocks this summer.
Although they have often switched formations based on the opposition and the players they have available, Wales settled on a 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 set-up in their most recent competitive matches.
Ward is most likely to start in goal, although a fully fit Wayne Hennessey and Adam Davies will provide competition, while in front of him, a centre-back trio of Rodon, Chris Mepham and Tottenham’s Ben Davies almost picks itself (if the latter is fit).
Wing-back is another area of fierce competition. Swansea’s Connor Roberts seems to have the right side nailed down, which has pushed Neco Williams over to the left to fill the gap left by Davies’ switch to centre-back, though Rhys Norrington-Davies provides another option with a mixture of attacking thrust and defensive solidity.
If fit, Ramsey will obviously be the box-to-box midfielder, backed up by Ethan Ampadu who, although good in possession, will be required to use his defensive instincts to offer protection to the centre-backs. Further forward, Harry Wilson (or maybe even David Brooks) dropping between the lines should provide the perfect distraction and creative hub to service the pace of Daniel James and the sheer class of Bale, again, if fit.
The form guide
Euro 2020 qualifying: WWDDWLLW
Despite losing two of their first three games, Wales finished their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in strong fashion, winning three and drawing two of their remaining five fixtures to finish second only to Croatia in Group E, ahead of Slovakia and Hungary by one and two points, respectively.
Recent fixtures: WWLWWDWD
Since losing 3-0 to England in a friendly in October, Wales have won five of their past eight games, drawing two and falling to defeat against Belgium in World Cup qualifying. But they did bounce back from that defeat with a 1-0 friendly win over Mexico and victory against Czech Republic in World Cup qualifying by the same scoreline.
Wales’ Euro 2020 odds
“We want to take our chance, just like in 2016,” Ryan Giggs said upon Wales being drawn in a group alongside Italy, Turkey and Switzerland. “It’s not easy, you have to get the momentum like we did in France.
“You hope that come June you have a group of healthy players to choose from and if we have that we’re a match for anyone.”
That’s a tough set of teams to get past and, at the time of writing, Wales are 6/1 outsiders to win Group A according to Sky Bet. Taking a wider view, the Dragons are priced at a whopping 100/1 to go all the way and win the European Championship.
That said, if you think Bale can inspire some more European magic for Giggs’ men, he is currently 66/1 with Sky Bet to win the Golden Boot this summer.