It has taken 58 years, but Wales are back at a major tournament and the optimism surrounding Chris Coleman’s side is high. Nobody had led them to a finals since Jimmy Murphy at the 1958 World Cup, but the current team has been developing together for some time and everything came to fruition during a hugely impressive qualifying campaign.
In Gareth Bale they have a genuine global star but there is top-level experience throughout the rest of the squad too, and Wales have the talent and flexibility to exceed expectations further – with a place in the knock-out stages a realistic target.

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THE BIG QUESTION

What if Bale is kept quiet? Wales’ talisman scored seven of their 11 goals in qualifying and will surely be the focus of considerable attention when opponents set up to face them. Aaron Ramsey can weigh in with goals from midfield when at his best but the lack of a recognised striker may come back to haunt them if the Real Madrid forward is not on top form. After Bale and Ramsey, the current squad’s top goalscorer is the Burnley striker Sam Vokes, with six, and an unlikely hero or two may need to emerge in France.

Real Madrid's Welsh forward Gareth Bale celebrates a goal during the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg football match Real Madrid CF vs Manchester City FC at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, on May 4, 2016

Image credit: AFP


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HOW FAR WILL WALES GO AT EURO 2016

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Wales’ biggest concern in a settled squad is the fitness of Joe Ledley, the Crystal Palace box-to-box midfielder, who fractured his fibula in May and will be given as long as possible to recover. Andy King, of Premier League champions Leicester, would be in the frame to replace him in the side. The centre-forward situation still provokes debate despite the willingness and mobility of Robson-Kanu, who has been released by Reading. He does an important job for the team but Wales may require more of a direct threat.

THE MANAGER: CHRIS COLEMAN

Wales manager Chris Coleman celebrates after Gareth Bale's goal against Belgium

Image credit: Reuters

Coleman took over in January 2012 at a difficult time, his predecessor and good friend Gary Speed having tragically passed away two months previously. A 6-1 defeat in Serbia later that year was a nadir and he considered quitting but Wales have not looked back since then and Coleman, who admits he owes much to the legacy left to him by Speed, is an immensely popular figure and has attracted admiring glances from elsewhere. He won 32 caps for the national team during his playing career.

TOP THREE PLAYERS

Gareth Bale: The Real Madrid forward’s importance to Wales needs little elaboration. If he is on song then they carry a potent threat against anybody and he has the happy knack of lifting those around him to new levels of performance, too.

Gareth Bale celebrates after scoring the first goal for Wales

Image credit: Reuters

Aaron Ramsey: Ramsey seems to have been around forever but is still just 25 and, like Bale, is influential for his country. He blew hot and cold during a frustrating season with Arsenal but still weighed in with six goals.
Ashley Williams: Wales’ captain is an outstanding, body-on-the-line defender whose form last season picked up along with that of his club, Swansea. Comfortable on the ball and physically dominant, he binds a well-drilled defence together.

SOCIAL MEDIA STAR

Ramsey’s Twitter account provides some entertainment if you can sift through all the various promotional tweets. The Arsenal man is something of a domestic god, as he showed when he posted a photograph of his home-made bread.

JONATHAN WILSON’S KILLER KNOWLEDGE

In his club career, Coleman played with a back three only once, but it seems to suit his Wales side. Joe Allen holds, with Ramsey and Joe Ledley shuttling alongside him, giving Bale a free role as Robson-Kanu, more usually a wide player, operates at centre-forward trying to create space.

HOW THEY QUALIFIED

The night that sealed Wales’ qualification from Group B was something of a damp squib – literally, as they lost 2-0 to Bosnia on a soaking night in Zenica on the penultimate matchday but saw Cyprus’s win in Israel confirm second place. But there was nothing understated about their progress to France.
An unconvincing start, winning narrowly in Andorra and drawing against the Bosnians, quickly grew momentum with four points against Cyprus and Belgium; things hit a peak when, in successive matches, Bale hit winners in the rematches with both those opponents. Wales looked a formidable outfit and eventually finished four points clear of third place.

Wales' Gareth Bale (L) and teammates celebrate after they qualified for Euro 2016 following their qualifying soccer match against Bosnia in Zenica October 10, 2015

Image credit: Reuters

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