Are Wales really that bad?
So Wales are the laughing stock of Home Nations football. Not only that but we’re officially worse at football than Sudan, the Faroe Islands, Haiti, Gambia and the Central African Republic. Heck, we’re only 2 places above the mighty Liechtenstein, a country with a population of just under 36,000 – our win last week against Montenegro was our first competitive win since beating the micro-state 2 years ago. This being the nation that has produced the likes of John Charles, Ryan Giggs, Neville Southall, Ian Rush, and latterly Craig Bellamy, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.
And now we have to play England again, which just gives the Anglo-centric media an opportunity to be condescending towards us and remind us how awful our football team has been of late, portraying it as the equivalent of an international FA Cup 3rd Round tie between a Premier League giant and a minnow from the Northern Premier League. I’m surprised we’re not hearing about how Darcey Blake works at a construction site or about Steve Morison’s rounds as a postman. The fact that England have little to shout about when it comes to achieving what it is capable of at international level in recent years seems to disappear out the window…
So how bad are Wales, really? Well, the results do sort of speak for themselves. In the 12 matches we have played since 2010, we have won 3 (against Luxembourg in a friendly, Northern Ireland in the Nations Cup, and Montenegro) and lost 9. But most of the results haven’t been that bad – quite a few of the defeats, such as against Montenegro in Podgorica, Bulgaria in Cardiff, and a friendly against Sweden in Swansea in March 2010, were narrow 1-0 defeats. Equally, to keep the score at 2-0 against England after 2 goals in the first 15 minutes when it could easily have turned into a rout shows some element of character. Even our biggest defeat, a 4-1 stuffing in Basel, saw us only 2-1 down until the last 10 minutes.
However, they are still all defeats. Without wanting to rose-tint too much, you would think that the Wales team of the early-to-mid 2000s of Giggs, Bellamy, Hartson, Savage, Speed, Simon Davies and co (providing all were fit and willing to play) would probably have ground out results in such situations. I firmly believe the talent to do much, much better than current form is there. The lack of experience in the side is probably the key factor here – not only are a significant number of the players young and inexperienced (as demonstrated by the fact that the captain is 20), but many also haven’t played regularly above Championship level. This is changing, though – Ashley Williams and Neil Taylor are part of the newly-promoted Swansea side, while Steve Morison has moved to another promoted side, Norwich.
This I believe is our strongest XI at the moment, and who would argue that it’s not good enough to compete with the majority of international sides in Europe?
GK – Wayne Hennessey
RB – Sam Ricketts
CB – James Collins
CB – Ashley Williams
LB – Neil Taylor
RCM – Aaron Ramsey
CM – Andy King
LCM – Joe Ledley
RW – Craig Bellamy
ST – Steve Morison
LW – Gareth Bale
Subs – Myhill, Blake, Gunter, Vaughan, Crofts, Robson-Kanu, Earnshaw
The problem is, by the time we get to the stage of having a talented, experience side, how difficult is it going to be to make headway? The group we were drawn into for Euro 2012 qualification was a tough group – 3 out of the 5 teams have recent experience of qualifying for major tournaments, while Montenegro, themselves pretty new to the international scene as an independent state, are proving to be a strong team. But for the 2014 World Cup, it gets worse – granted we have more matches, but having been demoted to the bottom pot due to sliding down the FIFA Rankings (I don’t know about you but I don’t think we’re worse than the Faroe Islands, really), we now have to face Eastern Europeans forces Croatia and Serbia, a young up-and-coming Belgian side, a Scotland team in crisis but one that still beat us 3-1 this year, and the difficult-to-beat Macedonians. It genuinely couldn’t have been much worse. It’s difficult to arrest a slide when the system is working against teams on a slide.
So 2016 remains the target – the Euros will be expanding from 16 to 24 teams, giving teams that don’t usually qualify for major tournaments a big chance to make them. What we have to do before then is to try and take whatever results we can in our remaining matches – Switzerland at home is the big one, and I fancy us to get something in Sofia too. And then it’s a case of winning friendlies and hoping for the best against the big boys in the World Cup qualifiers – that’s the only way we’re going to boost our ranking in time for Euro 2016 qualification, to move ourselves out of the bottom pot and give us a better chance of getting a decent draw.
And finally, we Welsh people need to get behind the team. We all know that Welsh football suffers from being second to rugby here, but I don’t feel that is an excuse for the abject lack of interest towards the national team in the past few years. Yes, the results haven’t been good for morale, especially those narrow defeats which are often more difficult to take. But no one seems to be even trying to rally the troops. Even if we play some matches in the Cardiff City Stadium, the Liberty Stadium and Parc y Scarlets, we need to fill them to create some atmosphere. Look at the Eastern European teams – they do well because they are intimidating places to go to and get a result. If we make Wales a difficult side to beat at home once again, as the rugby team have done to great effect, we can silence the jokes.
The glory days of the early 2000s, of beating Italy and Germany, and missing out on Euro 2004 by just that one solitary Russian goal in Cardiff, seem so long ago. That was our big chance, but it didn’t fall for us. However, I still believe we will get our chance one day. I know it sounds corny, but we just have to believe in ourselves. A good result today would be a great start.