International

5 things you need to know about Wales

2016-06-09 07:25
getty images, neil taylor, wales, euro 2016
Neil Taylor for Wales (Getty Images)

Cardiff - Five things about Wales as they go into the European Championship finals in Group B against England, Russia and Slovakia:

BRILLIANT BALE

Wales's lethal weapon is Gareth Bale, the Real Madrid forward, who scored seven of their 11 goals in qualifying and forms the speedy centre-point of their counter-attacking approach. Typically deployed behind a lone striker in a 3-5-1-1 formation, the left-footed 26-year-old boasts scorching pace, awesome stamina and tidy finishing skills, not to mention his prowess with a dead ball.

In leading the Welsh charge at a major tournament, the former Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur flier will do something that proved beyond former Welsh greats such as Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes and Ian Rush.

THE WAIT IS OVER

Wales have never previously appeared at a European Championship and last graced a major tournament at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. A team built around Juventus great John Charles - a centre-back turned prolific centre-forward - qualified for the finals after beating Israel in a two-legged play-off and successfully progressed from a group that also contained Hungary, Mexico and Sweden.

But with Charles missing due to injury, Wales lost 1-0 in the quarter-finals to eventual champions Brazil, for whom a 17-year-old Pele scored his first World Cup goal. Wales missed out twice on a World Cup place on goal difference in the 1980s and came within a whisker of qualifying for the 1994 tournament in the United States. Left-back Paul Bodin hit the bar with a crucial penalty in a 2-1 home defeat by Romania.

THREE IS THE MAGIC NUMBER

Manager Chris Coleman hit upon a tactical masterstroke in qualifying by setting his team out with a three-man defence, marshalled by captain Ashley Williams of Swansea City. Wales mustered seven clean sheets in Group B - including a 1-0 home win and 0-0 away draw against top-ranked Belgium - and conceded only four goals in their 10 matches. With Bale and Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey doing the business at the other end, it proved an effective formula. Experiments with a four-man defence in friendlies have not gone well, yielding a 1-1 draw with Northern Ireland and a 1-0 defeat in Ukraine.

getty images, chris coleman, ashley williams, euro

Wales coach Chris Coleman and skipper Ashley Williams (Getty Images)

THE LAND OF SONG

Fittingly for a country known as 'The Land of Song', Wales's official anthem for Euro 2016 was recorded by Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers, who released a string of hit albums in the 1990s and 2000s. The track, entitled 'Together Stronger (C'mon Wales)', was released in May.

SPEED LEGACY

As Wales gear up for the tournament, late former manager Gary Speed will never be far from the thoughts of their players, coaches, officials and supporters. The popular former Leeds United, Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers midfielder became head coach in December 2010 and laid the foundations for a renaissance that has seen Wales rise to as high as eighth in the FIFA world ranking.

But his time at the helm was tragically brief, as he was found dead at the age of 42 in November 2011 following an apparent suicide.

"When Gary was taken away from us, the whole country was in mourning and these players were really affected by it," said Speed's former Wales team-mate John Hartson. "So for Chris to have come in and picked the team up and to have moved forward the way they have has been magnificent."

Read more on:    wales  |  euro 2016  |  soccer
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