ARTICLE by Keane Webster.
PICTURE show Hal Robson-Kanu celebrating THAT goal for Wales at Euro 2016 and Connah’s Quay hero Callum Morris.
10 YEARS AGO, not many people would have thought that Welsh football would be where it is today.
From the success of our outstanding national side to our domestic sides brief but notable success in Europe. It’s been a decade to remember for Welsh football and for us Welsh fans too and it looks to only be getting better from here on out for us all.
Here, I examine just a few stand-out moments from the past decade.
Gary Speed’s Legacy
Our national team’s decade started with a change of management which saw former Welsh international Gary Speed replace John Toshack (and Brian Flynn who had temporarily stood in as caretaker boss for the team). Speed saw the challenge of the job as an exciting prospect and stated to fans that the project will ‘take time and patience’ to be successful – and how right he was.
But, despite all the excitement surrounding Speed’s appointment, his debut as Wales boss saw us suffer a crushing 3-0 defeat to the Republic of Ireland, which emphasised just how difficult the job was going to be for our new manager. That said, the next ten months showed a significant improvement on the pitch within the Welsh side, and under Speed’s guidance, they won their final three games of the year, finishing with an emphatic 4-1 home win over Norway.
Tragically, this victory would prove to be Speed’s final contribution as Wales boss. Despite the obvious improvement of our national side, his legacy meant so much more than just that. Speed changed the culture of our previously disheartened footballing nation and laid down the foundations that would pave the way for our side to continue developing over the course of the next decade and into the new one.
Chris Coleman’s Brave Appointment
Taking on the Wales job after the passing of Speed, and the impact he had on the national team, would have been difficult for anybody. However, in all the uncertain times surrounding the team, up stepped Chris Coleman to take over the reigns as Wales boss, which, in time, proved to be an immensely successful appointment.
Following on from the foundations laid down by Speed, Coleman continued the rapid improvement of our national side, gaining several positive results which included the historic 1-0 win over Belgium in June 2015, during the qualifying rounds for the 2016 European Championships. However, you could argue that one of the most famous results ever to go our way proved to be Cyprus’ crucial 2-1 home win against Israel – as it saw Wales finally quality for our first major competition after a 58 year wait (having last appeared at the World Cup way back in 1958).
The outstanding achievement of qualification emphasised just how great the job done by Coleman was, and how our nation’s football was at its greatest peak since 58’.
That 2016 Summer
A summer that will live long in the hearts of every one of us Welsh football fans, and a summer that defined the clear change in what Welsh football is all about – to both ourselves and the rest of the world.
At the start of the competition, expectations from fans weren’t high for our beloved Welsh side, but the spirits were. We were just happy the team would be in France playing against some of the best nations in Europe.
However, it transpired that the group of players selected for Euro 2016 had a burning desire to show the world what they can do, and they did not disappoint. Our campaign kicked off with a 2-1 win in the group against Slovakia, before a narrow 2-1 loss followed on match-day two against England. Another win, this time a 3-0 triumph over Russia, mean that, despite missing out on the points against England, Wales still managed to finish top of the group as their old foes could only a muster a 0-0 draw with Slovakia in their final group game.
As Wales progressed, they were drawn against Northern Ireland in the Round of Sixteen. Wales narrowly came out on top with a 1-0 win thanks to an own goal and the quarter final draw that followed, to many, looked certain to ensure Chris Coleman’s side’s final game in the tournament.
The media wrote Wales off immediately as we were drawn against the superstar packed side possessed by Belgium, but many a Welsh fan had hoped and indeed believed that another fairy-tale win was more than achievable for this determined side. Belgium started well by breaking the hearts of Welsh supporters and taking an early lead through a thunderous strike from midfielder Radja Nainggolan. However, Wales upped their game and levelled through captain Ashley Williams, who nodded home from a well-worked corner to start up the comeback that proved to be what is now regarded as the most historic victory in Wales’ history. An iconic Cruyff turn goal from Hal Robson-Kanu and a fine header from Sam Vokes followed late on for Wales as we made it to the final four of Euro 2016.
Unfortunately, the eventual winners of the competition, Portugal, knocked out the fired up Welsh underdogs 2-0 in the semi-finals. But, a semi final place in their first competition in 58 years just showed the footballing world how far this footballing nation had come in the last half-decade and how far it could go in future too.
Successive Euros Qualification
Despite Chris Coleman leaving the managers role at Wales in 2018, Wales proved that 2016 was no fluke by qualifying for the Euros (2020) again, this time with former Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs at the helm.
Our new boss may have been out of favour with quite a large sum of Welsh fans when first appointed, but definitely went on to prove all of his doubters wrong in the end when we qualified for yet another European Championships.
Wales finished second in Qualifying Group E behind 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia. Giggs’ side finished on 14 points, having beaten Azerbaijan twice, as well as Slovakia and Hungary and picked up points against Croatia (H) and Slovakia (A).
What a way to start off a new decade of Welsh football it could have been this summer in both Italy and Azerbaijan if it wasn’t for the outbreak of the Coronavirus, which ultimately saw the whole tournament called off and moved to 2021. Who knows what we could’ve achieved!
Connah’s Quay Nomads’ success :
And it’s not just the national team who has put Wales on the map during the last decade either – some of our Welsh Premier League sides have also enjoyed some glimmers of success in Europe.
A particular highlight came back in 2016, when Connah’s Quay Nomads set extremely high standards by claiming a historic 1-0 win at Norwegian side Stabaeck to progress to the Second Qualifying Round of the Europa League, having drawn the first leg 0-0. Callum Morris’ first half winner in Fredrikstad secured a famous win for Andy Morrison’s side that really brought some much-needed attention to Wales’ top-flight at the time.
This was undoubtedly seen as one of the most historic wins by any Welsh Premier League side in European qualification ever. However, The Nomads went onto top this achievement last summer by beating Scottish Premier League side Kilmarnock to once again progress to the Europa League second round. A 2-1 first leg defeat did not deter The Nomads spirits as they went on to turn the tie on its head with a 2-0 win in Ayrshire, as Callum Morris scored again and Ryan Wignall also contributed to hand them a 3-2 victory.
Another win in the past decade has shown the Welsh football fans that there can be plenty to be excited about for the next decade.
So, to finish, it is clear to see that Welsh football has come an extremely long way during the course of this last decade and signs are showing there’s only room for improvement too. National side manager Ryan Giggs has implemented a plan for the future which will see a growth in many of our team’s best young talents shine through from the likes of Manchester United’s Daniel James and Swansea City’s Joe Rodon to Bournemouth duo David Brooks and Harry Wilson. Long may the successful development of our Nation’s footballing side’s continue.