Will Wales qualify?

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It’s now or never, isn’t it?

If we can’t qualify when the gates gape as wide as Euro2016’s do, it isn’t going to happen.

Twenty-three teams go through and, after sifting out the no-hopers, that means about 36 countries are vying for those slots.

I think it’s the best chance we have ever had. And Friday’s game is our biggest since the doomed Russia play-off. But nobody can blow these opportunities as well as we can, although research last year showed that Ukraine have lost five tournament play-offs but at least they made the World Cup once.

There are glimpses that we can play as well as we did back in 2003 – the home game against Croatia was the best performance this fan can remember in a qualifier since the Italy match.

Last month’s dire effort against Andorra was the case against.

I think we just have to accept that this Wales side is capable of brilliance and rubbish, not usually in the same game.

Which team will turn up on the day? That’s anybody’s guess.

Two of the worst performances ever have been under Chris Coleman – the 6-1 in Serbia and last month’s win against Andorra. Before that, early Gary Speed games were awful though the team had appeared to turn that around.

The last three years suggest we can be very good or very bad. We’re almost bipolar – one game swaggering through the opposition in style, the next we can look like a kickabout on Pontcanna Fields.

So will we do it? This was interesting:

I’ve read stuff that we should play five at back to counter Bosnia but, as the World Cup showed, it pays to attack in group games. The cagey stuff was reserved for the nitty-gritty cat-and-mouse knockout. But generally, adventure was rewarded.

Teams that roared out of the blocks tended to do well and Friday is a day when we should be looking to win.

I can see Bosnia scoring which means our goals are probably going to have to come from someone in addition to Gareth Bale.

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With Aaron Ramsey out, Andy King and Simon Church are the players who score most often in domestic football.

Church didn’t play well last month but wasn’t alone – only Bale and Ben Davies did OK in Andorra. And he’s not a forward for the long balls – the game didn’t suit him.

The knives seem to be out for him in Wales and I understand he’s not widely admired at Charlton, but he is a clever, underrated striker and with Sam Vokes likely to be back in contention soon, if he plays he needs to score at least one goal to assure his doubters he’s worth a place in the team.

As a fan, generally, of Coleman, this weekend could prove a turning point for his credentials. I was puzzled by his substitution of a striker (Church) for a midfielder last month.

I concluded his fear of, and antipathy towards, the 3G pitch transmitted to the players and that was a significant reason for the awful display.

With two midfielders, Bale and Ramsey, who would walk into any other team in the world, we should have been strutting our stuff from 15th minute onwards. Even if we weren’t confident underneath we should have pretended we were and this is probably our greatest failing.

A lack of strut. Mark Hughes’s team had it – the manager himself epitomised it – this team doesn’t show it.

We have a good team but our players don’t believe in themselves. Some of that’s down to them and Coleman should be bullshitting the less confident into believing they’re good enough to do it.

Perhaps we should have played a friendly a few days earlier too.

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Was preparation as good as it could have been?

Cyprus beat Bosnia for only their second win in 18 games in which they have scored seven goals. It was freakish and may be a tipping point for them.

I was unfortunate enough to be in Limassol when we lost 1-0 to them in 2005, and luckily missed the defeat there three years later.

But their results in that era – they drew with Germany and murdered Ireland 5-2 – haven’t been replicated recently.

Anything but a win against them will be a bad result. Against Bosnia, a draw wouldn’t be great but, given Cyprus’s win over them last month, it wouldn’t be a poor outcome.

Balkan bogeyman have been a Welsh bugbear for the last 12 years, smashing our hopes time and again. Fiascos in Belgrade, Podgorica, Skopje, Novi Sad spring to mind. It’s time that changed.

But if we want to really give this campaign a go and reignite passionate interest in the national side, rather than “Well, it’s cheap to get in and my pal is going, so I might as well go”, then this is the crunch moment.

Countries like ours are lucky to get a good side every ten years. We’re not great obviously, but we have some immense talents who can go all the way.

My team would be – Hennessey, Davies, A WIlliams, Chester, Gunter; Ledley, King, Huws, J Williams, Bale; Church.

There’s a central midfield hole created by the missing Allen and Ramsey which just doesn’t seem to have an obvious answer. And maybe RIcketts will be preferred to Chester but I think Coleman will stick with the Hull man.

It’s a while since we’ve had a good chance of qualifying. In the last two campaigns, dreadful defeats in Montenegro and Serbia have kiboshed dreams, though in retrospect we were never good enough to get through.

This time it’s different.

In 2003, trudging out of the Millennium Stadium play-off, like many others, I figured qualification would never happen in my lifetime. I forced myself to kill the thought for good, was ready for another 40 years of missing out.

Recent setbacks like the Welsh women falling short of a World Cup play-off place last month and the rejection of a Euro 2020 bid just perpetuate the sense that Wales will come up short. Always.

Unfortunately, the hope has returned.

If the world’s most expensive player can’t spark a side to qualification then realistically it’s never going to happen.

Cadwch y ffydd – because the time has come to end the ritualised repetition of failure.

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2 thoughts on “Will Wales qualify?

  1. Just to let you know The Barry Horns are not from Barry, we are named after the legendary Welsh International footballer Barry Horne.
    Check out his face on our Barry Horns T shirts!

    Like

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