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World Cup wait continues for Wales – but they’ll be back

By Rich Jones

When Welsh fans led the national anthem prior to their World Cup qualifier with the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff last week, there was an overwhelming sense of pride providing the backdrop to a truly spine-tingling rendition.

Fast forward a couple of hours, and pride was still the word on the lips of Chris Coleman and the entire nation despite a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat.

After a glorious spell of almost unprecedented success over the last four years, missing out on the 2018 FIFA World Cup by a whisker has brought Wales back down to earth with a bang.

It has opened the door to a long overdue period of reflection on just what has happened during an unbelievable spell.

When asked about his post-match team-talk, Coleman revealed: “I thanked them for their work, for their passion and for making the nation proud again.

“We just didn’t have enough in that last push, plain and simple, but I’m super proud of the players.

“It’s been a privilege to work with these players, and you can feel how hurt they are, but I told them to stick their chests out and be proud of themselves.”

And despite failing to take Wales to their first World Cup since 1958, they most certainly can be proud.

After experiencing something of a post-Euro 2016 hangover, they came back from the brink to take their qualification bid to the final game.

From Ben Woodburn’s mesmerising debut strike to defeat Austria to Tom Lawrence’s moment of magic in Georgia, they certainly went down kicking and screaming.

Whilst they just lacked an edge without talisman Gareth Bale at the Cardiff City Stadium last week, nobody could question the passion and effort shown by the side.

This is not the first time Wales have fallen agonisingly short of a major tournament, but something about this latest failure feels different.

Following the heroics of Euro 2016, and with the current state of Welsh football, there is an overwhelming sense that this side will be back.

It may not be in its current form – skipper Ashley Williams, for instance, has endured a noticeable decline over the last 12 months whilst Joe Ledley is also the wrong side of 30.

But there is a crop of youngsters coming through who have generated significant excitement. Ben Woodburn is the headline act after bursting onto the international scene, but 17-year-old Ethan Ampadu has already made his first-team debut for Chelsea whilst 20-year-old Sheffield United midfielder David Brooks recently received his first senior call-up.

There is plenty of cause for optimism – and Chris Coleman believes their home humbling at the hands of close neighbours Republic of Ireland could prove a blessing in disguise in the long run.

He commented: “I’ve got a whole dressing room of devastated players and staff, because that elusive World Cup has passed us by.

“I genuinely believe looking at age of this squad and some of the young players coming through, we’re in good shape.

“They’ll learn from it. Defeat hurts but you gain a lot from it, and we’ve not lost here for four years. We’ve got to get over this disappointment and be stronger for it. We have to be.”

As Wales look to regroup there are now, understandably, questions about Chris Coleman’s future.

The 47-year-old is coming to the end of his contract and had previously stated this World Cup campaign would be his last.

But there is undoubtedly a sense that Coleman has unfinished business after their narrow heartache – and the man himself is now planning to spend some time considering his position.

“Ask any manager after a defeat, and you want to be as far away as you possibly can,” he stated.

“It’s been six years now, or coming up to it, I’ve been in charge. I can’t say right now what my future holds, because I’m not thinking about it, I’m genuinely not.

“There’s a chance I can (stay), a chance I won’t to be honest. It’s not just a matter of me signing a new contract.

“FAW have been great to me. They left me alone with my contract running down when I asked them to leave it alone to concentrate on getting results and getting us over the line.

“There will be a conversation now, but right now, I’m thinking about what we’ve just experienced.

“I want to go back with my family and friends, take a bit of time with my children to see how the dust settles and see how it goes.”

Whilst the latest World Cup disappointment is tough to take, there is a palpable belief that the future remains bright.

Whether or not Coleman remains at the helm, he has pioneered an iconic era for Welsh football, given generations of fans memories to last a lifetime and stirred up passion and pride throughout the nation.

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