Wales have nearly done it. The 57-year wait to qualify for a major tournament looks set to end next month with Chris Coleman’s side needing just one point from either of their last two Group B qualifiers to book their place at France 2016.
A win in the goalless draw at home to Israel eight days ago would have sealed Wales’ place in next year’s European Championships but instead The Dragons will need to bring something away from their trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina on October 10th or from their encounter with winless Andorra 3 days later in Cardiff.
The Welsh Capital was ready to party last week and despite the draw it looked as if Wales would still qualify as Belgium struggled to take 3 points away from Cyprus. A draw in that match would have also sent Wales to next year’s Championships, but Chelsea’s Eden Hazard got a dramatic 86th minute winner for the Belgians meaning that Wales fans will have to wait a while longer before the celebrations can begin.
For captain Ashley Williams, the Israel slip-up is no cause for panic –
“We wanted to get it done and dusted today” he said.
“We haven’t done that but by no means are we going to go away today disappointed. We still have two games to go and it’s still on us. We’re still top of the group so there’s no panic. We just keep the momentum going into the next two games.”
The message was similar from manager Chris Coleman, who knows how close Wales are to making history –
“We are four more points closer to where we want to be” he stated.
“We need one more nudge and then we are there.”
Gareth Bale’s bullet header against Cyprus in the 1-0 win on September 3rd was the stand-out moment in an otherwise underwhelming performance by Chris Coleman’s side that night. And despite controlling large periods of the play, the story was pretty similar against Israel in Cardiff as concerns over the shortage of goals continues to be a major talking point of this Welsh side. Despite remaining unbeaten throughout all of their qualifiers so far, Wales have scored just 9 goals from their 8 matches, with only minnows Andorra having scored fewer in Group B.
The influence of Real Madrid star Gareth Bale on this Welsh side is clear for all to see with the forward having been scorer or provider for 8 of the 9 goals this campaign, but Wales’ exceptional qualifying route has been anything but a one-man effort. Bale’s ability is undeniable but it has been the performances of the Welsh defence that have also stood out. Having conceded just twice in eight matches, Wales boast the second best defensive record in European Championship Qualification and if Coleman can get his side to replicate their defensive efforts in France next summer, Wales will continue to be a difficult side to break down and beat.
Wales can look back extremely fondly on their entire qualification campaign, but will undoubtedly look to their 3-0 win in Haifa against Israel and the 1-0 home win against Belgium has stand-out moments. Bale’s tap-in past Thibaut Courtois last June sent the whole of Wales in to a frenzy as the once outlandish dream of qualifying became a very real concept at that time.
The group stage draw for Euro 2016 takes place in December and should Wales qualify, fans will have a keen eye on the sides they get drawn against. Despite the record high World Ranking of 8th and their unbeaten record this campaign, their failure to qualify for Euro 2012 or the 2014 FIFA World Cup means Wales will most likely be seeded fourth for the draw.
With England having already qualified and Northern Ireland also on the brink of doing so, there could be a real home nations feel to next year’s championships. The Republic of Ireland and Scotland could qualify still, but should one of them do so, it seems likely that it would be at the other’s expense as Germany and Poland look set to secure the automatic spots in Group D.
For Wales, the best case scenario next month would be a win in Bosnia to allow for a party in Cardiff against Andorra. Bosnia cannot qualify automatically for France but a 3rd place finish would send them to the play-off’s and with Israel hosting a Cyprus side who are without a win in 4 qualifiers, the Wales match becomes a must-win game for Mehmed Baždarević’s side. Gareth Bale and co will have to be on top of their game to stop a Bosnian side, which despite flattering to deceive this campaign, still boast some of Europe’s finest players in Edin Džeko and Miralem Pjanić.