The rise of the Welsh National Football Team
Euro 2020 may have ended abruptly for Wales, but the nation’s progress on the football pitch can’t go unnoticed
Defeat in Amsterdam on Saturday was bitterly disappointing for everyone associated with Welsh football.
Wales were lethargic and second best all across the pitch and Denmark put the Welsh Dragons to the sword. It was a far cry from the adventures of 2016, but even the last 16 departure goes to show how the Welsh have come on the international football scene in the last two decades.
Around 20 years ago, Wales finished second from bottom with just one win from 10 matches in their 2002 World Cup qualifying group.
Gary Speed, Ryan Giggs and Robert Earnshaw were amongst the squad that fell short against the likes of Belarus and Norway. The next ten years would see more struggles on the pitch.
In August 2011, in what was Gary Speed’s first match as manager, Wales lost 2–0 at home to England and slipped to 117th in the FIFA rankings; their lowest position on record.
Wales would go on to miss out on a playoff place for Euro 2012 by just three points, winning three and losing five of their eight group games.
The 2014 World Cup Qualifiers brought more disappointment for the Welsh. Wales finished second from bottom and won just three of 10 group games. Once the side dusted themselves down, they readied themselves for a tournament the nation will never forget.
Chris Coleman’s side were placed in a group alongside Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Israel, Cyprus and Andorra. The Red Wall had a whale of a time watching their side finish second in the group, losing just one match and picking up an excellent 0–0 draw away to group winners Belgium.
At the tournament in France, things got even better for Cymru. Two wins from three, including a convincing 3–0 win over Russia to seal their place as group winners, had Wales flying in their first ever European Championships.
This set up a last 16 tie with Northern Ireland, where a Gareth MacAuley own goal sent the Welsh into a quarter final tie with Belgium.
The star studded lineup was intimidating on paper, but Wales didn’t take note of any script.
Goals from Ashley Williams and Sam Vokes either side of a peach of a strike by Hal Robson Kanu sent Wales into the semi-final with a 3–1 win.
The semi-final clash with Portugal proved a step too far for Wales as they went down 2–0 to the side that would go on to lift the trophy. It was a summer that changed the way Welsh football was viewed, and five years on the national side still strive to emulate the performance at that tournament.
Wales didn’t last as long in this years Euro’s as they would have liked, but the fact is that they have appeared at two straight European Championships and reached the knock out stage on both occasions. For a country with three million inhabitants, that’s an effort to be proud of.
The next priority for a Wales team rebuilding after decades of tournament qualifying failure will be to reach their first World Cup in over 60 years. With qualifying for Qatar 2022 well under way, their chances will rest in the next few months.