Talking Tactics: Life without Bale a challenge for Wales
Wales return to international action for the first time since Gareth Bale's retirement tonight.
The former Real Madrid forward was the driving force behind qualification for three of the last four major tournaments, with the Dragons having only previously appeared at the 1958 World Cup.
Now Rob Page’s team must learn to adjust to life without their talisman at a time when other senior players have also departed the international stage.
Ahead of Wales’ tough trip to Croatia in their opening Euro 2024 qualifier, we take a look at what life will be like without Bale.
Bale was the greatest Welsh player since John Charles and instrumental in his nation becoming regular participants at major international tournaments.
During his career with the Dragons, he scored roughly a third of their goals despite most often playing at left-back at the start of his career.
His nation’s record scorer with 41 strikes, he also provided 22 assists, meaning that he was directly involved in a goal every 137 minutes for his country.
Naturally, the team looked to provide Bale with ammunition whenever they could. Now they must aim to share responsibility.
Yet it is not just the 33-year-old that has retired from international duty. Stalwarts such as Chris Gunter, Joe Allen and Jonny Williams have also bowed out.
Of the elder generation of Welsh talent, Aaron Ramsey is now the last man standing. The 32-year-old has replaced Bale as captain.
Neither player looked fit at the World Cup and the team as a whole struggled to carry two figures who no longer had the legs to do the necessary running.
With Bale gone, Ramsey perhaps has a chance for an international renaissance. Any team would struggle to accommodate two ageing players but one is a possibility.
The former Arsenal midfielder is now at Nice in France, where he has managed to make 27 appearances this season.
With the next European Championship just over a year away, there is the opportunity for Ramsey to become a crucial figure for Wales again.
While Ramsey will clearly be an important member of Page’s team, the manager must look to build a younger core around him.
In Brennan Johnson and Daniel James, Wales have wide players with real pace who can play off Bournemouth striker Kieffer Moore.
Johnson in particular looks like he could develop into a key player. He has scored seven goals in his debut top-flight season with promoted Nottingham Forest, with five of those coming in his last nine games.
The 21-year old is attracting the attention of some of England’s biggest clubs, with both Manchester City and Tottenham linked to the forward in recent weeks.
Nobody is expecting Johnson to grow into a talent that could match Bale in his pomp but he certainly looks like the player most likely to be able to provide a cutting edge for the Welsh.
Johnson will miss the trip to Croatia through injury, as will experienced defender Ben Davies.
With those two lost from a group of players that has already seen so many important figures depart, the team face a very difficult challenge against the World Cup semi-finalists.
Croatia are hot favourites to top Group D and qualify for Euro 2024 but a second-place finish will also provide an automatic qualification spot.
Though in a rebuilding phase, Wales will still expect to finish above the likes of Armenia and Latvia. Turkey will surely be their big rivals in the group.
With plenty of pace in his side, Page is likely to go with counter-attacking tactics against the group’s strongest teams and must also find a strategy to overcome weaker nations looking to sit back.
The glory years of Wales’ recent past may be over but qualifying for Euro 2024 is a realistic target for the next generation.