In football, everyone loves underdog runs. That’s why teams like Porto in 2002, Liverpool in 2018 and Ajax in 2019 has made their permanent places in the heart of football fans. Wales, a Rugby-loving nation had never appeared in a football tournament since the 1958 World-Cup where they reached the quarter-finals. But, The Wales 2016 team was a squad which wanted to make it big, despite being in the midst of European big boys. Though, They lost to Portugal in the semi-finals that team had a huge impact in the minds of their football fans.
UEFA Euro 2016: The Wales squad
Wales also didn’t have a squad that could reach Euro semifinals on paper. But with their team effort and amazing management of ex-Espanyol and Real Sociedad boss Chris Coleman, they had managed to do the unthinkable. Although they had players like Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey or Ashley Williams, the overall team was sub-par. Players like Robson-Kanu, Joe Allen or James Chester was not in the radar of top European clubs before that tournament. But their performance rejuvenated their footballing careers and brought them in the limelight.
Wales didn’t have a top-class goalkeeper at that time. Wayne Hennessey of Crystal Palace was the man under the sticks for the dragons. Though he didn’t have a bigger name like David De Gea or Manuel Neuer, he was excellent in that tournament. He supported his defence with his crucial saves and took them to semifinals almost single-handedly. Danny Ward of Liverpool and Fon Willams of Inverness were his backups who supported him whenever necessary.
Welsh defence was pretty strong with Ashley Williams being rock solid in defence. He set an example to his side by leading them from the front. His pairing with James Chester saved Wales from many troubles. Not only in stopping attacks, but both the defenders were good in the air and were found in scoring positions during set-pieces. Ben Davies and Chris Gunter played as left and right backs respectively. They were well balanced with their attacking and defensive attributes and were instrumental in both sides of the pitch. Neil Taylor, Ashley Richards and James Collins were backup options who came from the bench in crucial minutes.
The midfield department was filled with experienced players. Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey was the most crucial man in midfield. He played in the Zone 14 and orchestrated the attack. He played as a bridge between midfield and attack. He was supported by the experienced Joe Allen who was given defensive responsibilities. Other than these two players, Andy King, Joe Ledley and Dave Edwards came in the starting lineup whenever necessary.
Welsh attack was mostly dependent on Gareth Bale. He and Robson-Kanu played as the forwards with Aaron Ramsey playing as a winger. On paper, the formation was 3-4-3, though it often shifted to a 3-4-1-2 formation with Aaron Ramsey drifting in the attacking-mid position. Other players like Simon Church, David Cotreill and Sam Vokes played as a substitute.
The Dream run of the Wales 2016 squad which no one expected
Wales was put in group B with their neighbours England, Russia and Slovakia. The group was tricky as England were the favourites in the group. Other than the two English sides, Russia and Slovakia were also there who could surprise anyone.
Wales played their first match against Slovakia. They started their campaign with a win against the weaker Slovakia team. Gareth Bale struck for Wales in the 10th minute for Wales which was levelled by Duda of Slovakia in the 61st minute. Robson-Kanu scored the winner for Wales in the 80th minute which secured them 3 points.
Wales matched up with England for their second match. Everyone thought that the dragons will not stand a chance against the mighty English side. But, Coleman’s side proved everyone wrong by almost snatching a point from their neighbours. Wales took the lead with Bale’s goal in 41 minutes and were looking good. But Vardy levelled the scores after half time and England ensured three points with a late winner from Daniel Sturridge.
Wales managed a comfortable victory against Russia. They played extremely well in that match and registered a 3-0 victory. Ramsey scored within 11 minutes of the match. Taylor scored the second goal for Wales in the 20th minute. Gareth Bale finally continued his excellent form by scoring the third in the 67th minute.
Wales, whose qualification from the group was in doubt moved to the knockout phase as group leaders. They secured six points from group B. England got 1 win and 2 draws and were second in the group.
Round of 16
Wales being the group toppers got an easy opponent in Round of 16. They faced Northern Ireland who was third in their respective group. The match was played in Paris where Wales registered a 1-0 victory thanks to the own goal of Gareth McAuley who tried to clear a low cross from Gareth Bale. But, the ball went into goal and made way for Wales to proceed to the next round.
In Quarterfinals, Wales faced Belgium. Both the sides were equally matched and the game was pretty exciting. Radja Nainggolan scored the opening goal for Belgium in the 16th minute. But the lead didn’t last long. Ashley Willams came into rescue for Wales as he scored around thirty minutes from a corner to make the score 1-1. The second half of this match was even more interesting as around fifty minutes the most memorable frame of this tournament was created. Robson-Kanu scored the winner with a Cruyff turn and took Wales to the semi-finals. This goal can be considered as one of the most important in Wales football history. Reaching the semis was Wales’s best performance in any footballing competition. The third goal was scored by Sam Vokes, with less than five minutes remaining in the clock and took Wales to their first Euro Semis.
The Semi-finals were pretty one-sided. Though, it featured the clash between two of the best wingers of this generation and Real Madrid teammates Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. Wales didn’t stand a chance against the Portugal side who were on their way of winning their first Euro title. Portugal won the match 2-0 with Cristiano and Nani scoring the two goals for the would-be champions.
Though Wales didn’t manage to win the tournament, this result had a huge impact on their footballing approach. They took the game more seriously and as a result, new players came up through the ranks making them one of the top tier sides of Europe. Currently, They are in an excellent developing process and are very prominent in European footballing radar.
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