After 64 years of being left out and spending the summer months dreaming of hearing “Land of my Fathers” belted out on the World stage, Wales finally got their wish. Cymru, lead by former player Rob Page, managed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Yes, it was in a faraway land that nobody wanted to go to. Yes, it was in the cold winter months rather than the usual summer. Yes, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey weren’t at the peak of their powers anymore. But none of that mattered.
Wales were at the World Cup.
There was no better feeling hearing the 3000 Welsh fans belting out the national anthem in the searing heat of Qatar. About to face the United States, it didn’t matter what happened next. Win, lose or draw, the result was simply irrelevant. Wales had made it to the World Cup for the first time since John Charles and co in 1958.
That is where the joy ended. A tepid game against the United States that saw Gareth Bale net Y Dreigiau only goal of the whole campaign – a penalty he won from a needless foul by the American defender. It gave them hope going into a huge match with Iran. It was the biggest chance Wales had to get a victory in the group, given that their final match was against long-standing rivals England. The Iran game saw a dreadful performance that almost left them with a point, until two injury time goals for Iran left them deserved winners.
Then came England. Barring a 4-0 victory or the result going perfectly in the Iran-USA game, Wales were heading home. Still, the scalp was there to take and Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen could hold their heads up high with a win over the old enemy and denting their very realistic World Cup winning hopes.
Once again, the team were dreadful. Virtually no chances throughout the game, Page’s men somehow held off the Three Lions for 45 minutes. Sadly, a second half barrage saw England run out 3-0 winners without breaking a sweat, with key men like Bale and Ramsey as anonymous as they had been for the entire tournament.
Wales crashed out of Group B at the bottom of the standings, with very little to show with their journey to Qatar. The golden era of Welsh football, with saw them qualify for three tournaments and making the semi finals of Euro 2016, was over. The key men were passed their best and fans have to now get used to the Wales of old – near misses, poor performances and no more getting bailed out by a last minute free kick from their superstar from Whitchurch.
But what is next for Wales?
The EURO 2016 Era Is Over
The 2016 Euro team is undoubtably the greatest Wales group of all time. The individual talent of the likes Bale and Ramsey were complimented by an incredible team spirit and togetherness which you simply cannot replicate. The team were bigger than the sum of their parts and inspired by their manager Chris Coleman and former manager Gary Speed.
That was nearly 7 years ago. The players are 7 years older and 7 years slow. Gareth Bale was once one of the top players in the world, whereas now he struggles to get a game in the MLS. Aaron Ramsey, formerly a star of Arsenal and Juventus, is struggling to stay fit while sunbathing in the south of France. Other key men, like Joe Allen, Chris Gunter and Jonny Williams, have simply been unable to outrun father time and see themselves fall further down the league as their playtime diminishes.
The team will have a clear-out. Bale, Ramsey, Gunter, Allen and Hennessey, all key players up until the 2022 World Cup, will bid farewell to their country. Bale and Ramsey actively hampered the side in the Qatar, and were off the pace from minute one to the final minute against England. They will go down as two of the greatest players in Welsh history and their contributions will not be forgotten. The rest will also be known as legends oft he Welsh game, but unfortunately their time has come.
The transition to the new blood will be painful. Results will be poor. The team has been built around Bale and Ramsey for so long that changing the look of the side will take time. On the wing, Brennan Johnson is hoping to make the number 11 shirt his own. Cardiff’s Rubin Colwill will hope to slot in to the shoes of the former City man Ramsey in midfield. The young players can never match up to the dizzying heights of the two men, but the team cannot rely on stars anymore. They must be a team, with a vision and a way of playing.
Is Rob Page the man to lead the next generation? Who knows. He signed a four year deal with the team after Euro 2020. He led his side to the World Cup and will go down as the third greatest manager the country has ever had (after Chris Coleman and Jimmy Murphy). However, he has shown in his two tournaments a lack of tactical knowledge, a lack of structure and vision and a reluctance to change the game with subs and in-game decisions. In my opinion, he wont be the man to take Wales to the World Cup again.
But will anyone? They’ve had 64 years of hurt, with 6 years of absolute bliss from 2016 to 2022. But all good things must come to an end, and the FAW haven’t got the money nor the pull to bring in a top manager. The best hope is that a young and hungry manager, like Gary Speed and Ryan Giggs were, to mould the squad into their own vision and hope to challenge again at the level of a Ukraine or a Sweden. Occasional tournament appearances but no real expectations.
What a ride it has been. Yma o Hyd.