International

Wales near Euro 2016 qualification

2015-09-02 20:48
Gareth Bale (Getty)

London - Wales have suffered so many near-misses in the past half-century that the fans take nothing for granted but there is now a genuine belief they can reach a major tournament for the first time since the 1958 World Cup.

It will happen as early as Sunday if Chris Coleman's team win their Euro 2016 qualifiers away to Cyprus on Thursday and then at home to Israel three days later.

With their Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale in fine form, Wales lead Group B with 14 points, three ahead of Belgium, who they beat 1-0 at home in June, and five clear of Israel.

Victory in the next two games would guarantee one of the two qualifying spots, as even a three-way tie with the Belgians and Bosnia would be good enough on head-to-head results.

"We're all buzzing and want to do well for our country, but we are not thinking of qualifying yet," said goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, who is hoping to win his 50th cap on Thursday, in an interview with Football Association of Wales TV.

"Cyprus were good last time and this match will be tough," he added. "The job is not done yet.

"But it's in our hands and hopefully we can get it done."

Bale has bad memories of Nicosia, where Wales lost 3-1 after taking the lead eight years ago in one of their disappointing qualification campaigns.

In 1975 they reached the last eight of the European Championship, at a time when only four teams competed in the finals.

For the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, the principality missed out on goal difference and a missed penalty in the final match cost them a place in the 1994 tournament.

Then there was a playoff defeat against Russia for Euro 2004.

In 2011 Wales slumped to 117th in the FIFA rankings, with only five European teams below them. But since then their fortunes have improved spectacularly, taking them to a current highest-ever position of ninth.

Confidence in the camp is now as high as that ranking with the end of a 57-year wait beckoning.

Read more on:    euro 2016  |  gareth bale  |  soccer
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