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Can Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey set Euro 2020 alight?
Can Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey set Euro 2020 alight?

Wales have fond memories of the last European Championship — and they will be hoping to make a similar splash this time around.

The summer of 2016 was an unforgettable one for Welsh football fans, with Chris Coleman guiding his unfancied team to the semi-finals and beating favourites Belgium along the way.

A repeat of that achievement may be a big ask but a shot at the knockout phase is a realistic target.

Background

Euro 2020 will only be Wales' second appearance in a European Championship.

A growing football nation, they effectively burst onto the scene in 2016 and have continued to develop impressively since then.

Missing out on the 2018 World Cup was a huge disappointment.

But the emergence of promising youngsters Neco Williams, Ethan Ampadu and Tyler Roberts — alongside established stars Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey — sees Wales go into the tournament in good shape.

Aaron Ramsey's return from injury will be key for Wales this summer
Aaron Ramsey's return from injury will be key for Wales this summer

How they qualified

It wasn’t overly convincing but Wales got there in the end.

In an exceptionally tight group, a 2-0 victory over Hungary in the final round of games was enough to secure second place as they finished one point above third-placed Slovakia and two ahead of Hungary.

Qualification was largely thanks to their impressive defensive record, which saw them concede just six goals in eight games.

Conversely, 10 goals scored across the campaign was an underwhelming tally, so the team’s strikers will need to step things up.

The line-up

Gareth Bale scored 11 Premier League goals on loan at Tottenham
Gareth Bale scored 11 Premier League goals on loan at Tottenham

The five at the back system introduced by Coleman has largely remained in place ever since, though Wales are not afraid to switch to four in defence on occasion.

They base their game on solid defensive foundations, allowing the likes of Bale and Dan James to control proceedings in the final third.

That philosophy is embedded in the squad and has been key to them consistently surpassing expectations, even when pivotal midfielder Ramsey has been absent from the side.

Predicted line-up: Hennessey; Rodon, Ampadu, Davies; Roberts, Allen, Ramsey, Williams; Bale, James, Moore.

Star man: Aaron Ramsey

Many will point to Bale’s influence, which is indisputable of course, but when Ramsey starts everything seems to flow for Wales.

Injuries have meant international appearances have been all too rare for the 30-year-old midfield maestro in recent times.

But he remains an integral part of the team, helping Wales to get the best out of their attacking talents and 31-year-old Bale in particular.

Those two together were devastating in 2016, with Ramsey directly involved in 50% of his country’s goals at the tournament.

And despite his limited opportunities for Juventus in 2020-21, Ramsey still ranked in the top 10 Serie A players for big chances created per 90 minutes (0.49).

Up-and-comer: Ethan Ampadu

Ethan Ampadu mostly featured as a left-sided centre-back for Sheffield United
Ethan Ampadu mostly featured as a left-sided centre-back for Sheffield United

Ampadu stood out on loan at Bramall Lane as Sheffield United were condemned to life in the Championship. 

The Chelsea youngster is capable of playing in defence or midfield and seems to grow in stature with each appearance at both club and international level.

An intelligent reader of the game and still only 20, Ampadu ranked 13th for interceptions per 90 (2.11) in the Premier League in 2020-21.

The boss

Robert Page has been confirmed as the man who will lead Wales at Euro 2020 in the absence of Ryan Giggs.

The interim boss has slotted seamlessly into the role, winning four of his six games in charge, but has admitted the situation is less than ideal.

He said: "They're difficult circumstances. There's no hiding away from that but it is what it is.

"Over the previous two camps, the boys have reacted in a positive way and they've not been affected by it whatsoever. It's continuity the players want.

“Thankfully, we're all clear in what's going to happen and that's myself, the players and everyone associated with the team.

"We can focus on the job in hand — planning and preparing a team ready to compete in the Euros."

Qualifying from a group containing Italy, Switzerland and Turkey will be a challenge — but it would be unwise to bet against Wales taking Europe by storm once again.

All information correct as of midday, June 2, 2021

Tags

WalesEuropean ChampionshipGareth Bale

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