Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

What next for Wales?

Posted on 20 November 2017 by Ben Morse

That feeling is back again. That sinking feeling when you should have done better, but you’ve fallen at the vital point.

That one is common amongst Welsh fans.

Whether it be losing 3-0 to the USSR in the qualifying rounds for the 1982 World Cup, meaning they didn’t qualify on goal difference. Or missing a penalty at 1-1 against Romania needing a win in the 1994 World Cup qualification and then conceding a second to end those hopes. Or losing 1-0 to Russia in the qualifying for the 2004 Euros, after Yegor Titov had tested positive for a banned substance in the first leg and somehow escaped punishment.

And these feelings have all resurfaced after Wales fell at the last hurdle once more when they lost to the Republic of Ireland, sealing the Irish’s place in the play-offs which amounted in a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Denmark.

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This was accompanied by the obvious outpouring of emotion that is to be expected from such a heartbreaking defeat.

But, where the defeat to the Irish possibly differs to the other close finishes is the emotion that was predominately felt from me and everyone else at the stadium was anger and frustration rather than sadness.

We were angry because we had seen Wales perform so admirably during the Euros in 2016 and in the qualification period for that tournament. The disparity in performance during the Ireland game, a game in which their attack was often stifled and rarely troubled the Irish.

So during these last two friendlies with France and Panama, there have been plenty of questions asked of the whole footballing set-up, with most of them being directed at manager Chris Coleman after his less-than-committal comments after the aforementioned Ireland game.

And as it turns out, Coleman has decided to move on in a surprising decision that has taken him to Sunderland.

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As a massive Chris Coleman fan and someone who was desperate for him to stay, it seems an odd career decision to take the helm at the Stadium of Light . I know people in football must have supreme confidence to operate at a high level, but the Sunderland job seems like a poisoned chalice which has brought nothing but unhappiness to whoever comes close to it.

Also, Gus Poyet has spoken of a culture problem in the dressing room and at the board level at Sunderland which might explain their struggles last year and during this season. Chris Coleman will look forward to dealing with that.

I spoke to Rob Phillips of BBC Wales about who would be an ideal replacement for Coleman and he said: “My own preference would be to seek a replacement from far and wide. Given his close connection with the FAW Trust and Osian Roberts in particular, I don’t think the current Belgium assistant Thierry Henry is as outrageous as it seems.

“It sounds ridiculous but another name ill throw in is Panama couch Hernan Diaz. One of only two managers to qualify three nations for a World Cup. Maybe he would end the ridiculous wait to achieve what the class of 1958 did in the world’s most prestigious tournament!”

A fear of Welsh fans is that their success in the Euros was just an anomaly, and that their shortcomings in the qualification period is a return to their levels of success from before the tournament.

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Phillips said: “I do not see qualification for Euro 2016 as an anomaly. It was magnificent and thoroughly deserved with a squad at their very best when it mattered.

“I don’t think Wales was blessed with an easy World Cup group. It looked fine on paper, but it was unlike many of the other groups where there was a powerhouse leading team and the rest were playing for second place i.e. Northern Ireland’s section with Germany.”

Philip Cadden of the Sun agreed: “Yes, they massively over-achieved at the Euros, but there is still a nucleus of a team there to be competitive against anyone in a qualification campaign.

“The margins were fine and, ultimately, Wales didn’t qualify because they drew too many home games against Georgia and Serbia.”

With the departure of Coleman and a few key players approaching the twilight years of their career – players such as Ashley Williams and Joe Ledley – fans are wondering if this the end of a golden generation or if this success of the Euros in 2016 can possibly be replicated.

Cadden said about the potential future success: “I don’t think this is the end of an era – even with the departure of Coleman.

“It’s important the Welsh FA make the right appointment but this Welsh team should stay together for a minimum of one more campaign.

“The opportunities have increased to qualify for Euro 2020 with spots up for grabs through the League of Nations.

“So I think Wales, with the right stability among management and players, have a great chance of qualifying again.”

With the ageing of a squad that seems to be in its prime being an issue for Wales, a lot of hope has been placed on the next generation of Welsh players coming through at the moment.

Phillips thinks highly of the youngsters, saying: “am really excited about the potential. Woodburn has already made an impact when it counts – in qualifying.

David Brooks looks a seriously good prospect and was man of the match against Panama. He also offers a wing threat we do not possess if Bale is not there.

And, for 17, I think Ampadu looks a remarkable prospect. His control, passing range, game management and general maturity against Panama was a joy to behold.”

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Cadden agrees as he said: “I went to both the France and Panama friendlies last week and I was impressed with the kids.

“We know a bit about Woodburn already due to his match-winning debut exploits against Austria.

“But I was particularly impressed with the other two. Ampadu shows a composure and class beyond his 17 years while Brooks looks to be another direct and exciting winger.

“The trio have brought a freshness to the team, they are always looking to attack and showcase their talent and their energy and enthusiasm rubbed off on the elder players.

“The next year will be a transition for Wales but these players should be knocking on the door to start Euro 2020 qualifiers.”

It will interesting to see how Wales recover from their most recent setback, starting with the appointment of a new manager.

The rumours coming out of the Welsh FA suggest that the appointment could come in the New Year as they take their time making the correct decision.

On the playing side, the squad still looks strong with the core of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen remaining as an integral part of their hopes.

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But the difference going forward now is that they are backed up by a strong core of young players that could provide the extra bit of life to a squad that will be on a low ebb.

Featured Photo Credit © Stephen Morse