What an achievement from the Welsh. Not only qualifying for their first major tournament in almost 60 years but now their first quarter-final appearance since 1958.
And if anyone is aware of the fine margins in football – it is surely Wales boss Chris Coleman.
12 October 2012.
Scotland are 1-0 up in Cardiff and Coleman is looking at the possibility of becoming the first Wales manager to lose five consecutive games at the start of his tenure. Scotland have a second goal ruled out with the linesman judging the ball to have gone out of play before Steven Fletcher turned it in. Fine margins.
The game had turned and an equaliser from the penalty spot followed by a wonder goal from their talisman Bale meant that Chris Coleman avoided a certain sacking and got his Wales reign off the ground.
What Coleman and his young Wales side have achieved since has been incredible and – tough though it may be – we Scots should be motivated by what they have achieved, not bitter. Wales possess the best player in Europe and the way Bale lifts the players around him to another level is remarkable. But we are kidding ourselves to call them a one-man team.
Would Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, Ashley Williams, Ben Davies, James Chester and Joe Ledley not all get in our starting XI?
Wales thrust these players together at a young age and, although they’ve suffered along the way, they are now reaping the benefits. Of course it helps to have a Galactico, but Wales have had big names in the past (Ian Rush, Ryan Giggs and John Hartson) and not achieved anywhere near this kind of success.
In a period that is surely the darkest for the Scottish national team for a few seasons, we should learn from our Welsh neighbours. Gordon Strachan has tremendous loyalty to his players, but are Scott Brown and Steven Fletcher really the future of Scottish football?
While it would be naive to suggest we just throw the under-17s into the World Cup Qualifying campaign, to not play the likes of Barrie McKay, John McGinn and Andy Robertson in favour of the old heads would be the nail in the coffin for Scottish football. We are possibly as far away from a major tournament as we have ever been and the likes of Steven Whittaker and Alan Hutton – who have been part of past failures – aren’t going to get us there.
Of course having a world class individual goes a long way but I cannot be the only one who’s sick of Strachan’s negative bemoaning of the lack of such a player. Iceland, Northern Ireland and Hungary have soundly put to bed that myth over the past few weeks.
But back to Wales. They go into tonight’s game against much-fancied Belgium knowing that they have achieved wonders in reaching this stage – but they are not there to make up the numbers. No disrespect to Northern Ireland who were delighted to even reach the last 16, but Wales genuinely have a team that is capable is going all the way in this tournament.
Belgium have been inconsistent and are missing the injured Jan Vertonghen and the suspended Thomas Vermaelen, with former Hoops loanee Jason Denayer expected to come in. The prospect of Bale and Ramsey against an inexperienced defence, with Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku attacking the other end, sets this game up to be one of the games of the tournament…so it will probably finish 0-0.
But this Wales side, which everyone believes is more of a club atmosphere than a national team, have a real sniff of getting through and setting up a tantalising ‘Bale vs Ronaldo’ semi-final. This would bring the added bonus of some priceless faces of the BRITISH television pundits who have spent 99% of their air-time talking about Woy’s boys.
Coleman and his predecessor, the late Gary Speed, have shown Scotland how to coach a national team, and I for one would love to see them go all the way.