Euro 2016 qualifiers: Wales not all about Bale

Wales' Gareth Bale celebrates after qualifying for UEFA Euro 2016.
PHOTO: Reuters

Wales superstar Gareth Bale did what Welsh legends such as Ryan Giggs, Neville Southall and Ian Rush failed to do - help the country qualify for their first major tournament since 1958.

Never mind that the team went down to a shock 2-0 loss to Bosnia and Herzegovina yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Despite the defeat, Chris Coleman's men are guaranteed at least second place in Group B and an automatic qualifying spot for Euro 2016, after rivals Israel lost 2-1 to Cyprus to blow their own chances of finishing as group runners-up.

Bale, with six goals in the qualifying campaign, will surely send shudders down the spine of opponents in France next year.

Contrary to popular belief, they are by no means a one-man team.

TEAM SPIRIT

No one will deny that Bale played a huge part in Wales' achievement.

Directly involved in eight of the team's nine goals (scoring six goals and providing two assists), he is responsible for 11 points in the qualification campaign.

But perhaps the biggest role he performed on the pitch wasn't that of a one-man machine, but of a team player.

Despite being the leader on the field, he doesn't boss others around like a certain Real Madrid teammate from Portugal does.

Bale's compatriots know that they can attempt any pass or any shot, without risking the unnecessary wrath of an egoistical alpha male.

As a result, the camaraderie in the camp was allowed to flourish.

Their team spirit could be seen throughout the campaign, be it during post-game huddles or when the odds started to pile up against them, like when they beat Cyprus with 10 men last October.

DEFENCE

The defence forms the important foundation, and Coleman has got one of the most efficient rearguards in Europe.

With Swansea City centre back Ashley Williams leading the backline and Chris Gunter or Ben Davies offering him assistance in a tactically flexible defence, Wales are in good hands.

Until yesterday morning, they had the best defensive record in the Euro 2016 qualification campaign.

Before the defeat, they had conceded just two goals in eight matches, and even then, one came off the penalty spot and the other via a free- kick.

Remarkably, Bosnia's second goal was the first time they have conceded in open play in this campaign.

CHRIS COLEMAN

Coleman took over the reins in 2012 under extremely tough circumstances, as he had succeeded Gary Speed following his death.

His first big assignment was qualification for the 2014 World Cup, and he failed miserably.

Wales finished second-bottom of their group, and a massive 16 points adrift of group winners Belgium.

But the former Fulham manager has learnt from his mistakes.

His meticulous preparation for matches has been impressive, while he also won admirers with his tactical nous.

During qualifying, Coleman has used three, four and five men in his backlines, all without losing their defensive cohesiveness.

FLUIDITY

Perhaps one of the most under-rated qualities of this Welsh side is the rhythm they generate on the pitch.

Credit must be given to Coleman for making the right tactical calls more often than not to catch opponents off-guard, but he had the players to count on to execute the tasks superbly.

Joe Allen struggles to hold down a place for Liverpool but is a different beast in a Wales jersey, providing the lubricant to link defence and attack.

Bale thrives in his effectively free role, but he has the help of Aaron Ramsey, whose brilliant passes have been a key weapon of their attack.

And in Williams, they have an elegant, two-footed defender who can stroke the ball upfield.

YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE

The starting players against Bosnia have an average age of 26.

They are not lacking in experience though.

Defender Gunter, 26, for instance, had just earned his 62nd international cap, while Bale, who is the same age, has 53.

The Welsh first 11 boasted an average of 38 international appearances - a healthy figure, considering none of these players have had the chance to add to their tallies during the many summers when they didn't qualify for the big tournaments.

Many are crediting former manager John Toshack for systematically blooding young players on the international stage when he was in charge from 2004 to 2010.

The Dragons are certainly reaping the rewards now.


This article was first published on October 12, 2015.
Get The New Paper for more stories.

VIDEOS TO WATCH

SERVICES