Anticipation is an odd sensation. Every person on this planet has, at one time or another, eagerly awaited something; be it a Hollywood blockbuster, a holiday or, if the child within is particularly rambunctious, even Christmas.
The more intense and prolonged the wait the harder it is to fulfil your expectations. Now imagine waiting fifty-eight years.
This is the situation that the Welsh fans find themselves in. Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsay and the rest of the lads travel to Bordeaux on Saturday to take on a capable Slovakia side.
Much has been made of Slovakia and their chances at the Euros, centred largely around the impressive 3-1 friendly victory over Germany.
Now while the Slovaks can beat anyone on their day, as they proved with their qualifying victory over reigning champions Spain, they are far from infallible. Aside from Napoli’s Marek Hamšík there is a clear lack of top talent.
Robert Vittek has aged into obscurity, Martin Škrtel is in terminal decline, Vladimir Weiss, never the most consistent of talents, has had his skilled blunted by his continual spell in the Middle-East. Kucka of AC Milan and Stoch of Bursaspor are players of talent who given the opportunity can cause the Welsh problems.
The reactionary world we live in demands that the last result of any side is the be all and end all and as such I believe the prowess of Jan Kozak’s men has been greatly exaggerated.
It is most likely that Chris Coleman will continue to exploit the 3-5-2 formation that bore so much fruit during qualification. Crystal Palace’s Hennessey is a reliable stopper, a solid back three of Ashley Williams, Ben Davis and James Chester and a two-man midfield shield of Joe Allan and Joe Ledley, who unbelievably looks set to overcome a leg fracture sustained just four weeks ago is as robust a unit as you could hope to find.
Defensive solidity proved to be the main emphasis in qualifying, however conceding eight goals in their last four games will give the squad cause for concern.
Width should be provided by wing-backs Chris Gunter of Reading and Swansea’s Neil Taylor. Although they will be expected to act as auxiliary attackers, again, the main emphasis will be ensuring that their sheets remain clean.
The biggest problem for Wales is also their biggest strength; Gareth Bale. The Real Madrid man is clearly a player of world-class talent, as evidenced in his Champions League Final display. Despite the gargantuan levels of skill and the obvious desire he displays for his nation, there is clearly a worry that there is a massive overreliance.
Bale scored a whopping seven of Wales’ eleven goals in qualifying group B assisting a further two. Without the wing-wizard the squad looks a tad blunt.
Yet when he is fit and able, Bale is assisted by players of some repute, most notably Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsay. aside from his dynamic runs and clever usage of the ball it will be the midfielder’s bleached blonde locks that will capture folk’s attention.
Premier League champion Andy King can also enter the fray. His closing matches to the season were hugely impressive, highlighting another option in attack. Finally operating as a lone front man will likely be Reading’s Hal Robson-Kanu. Traditionally a winger, it will be his responsibility not to notch goal after goal in a penalty box predator manner, but to move intelligently opening up space for his more gifted midfield teammates.
Both Sam Vokes of Burnley and Simon Church of MK Dons can enter from the bench and provide a more direct style of play.
Hopefully the extended wait to compete can imbibe Welsh lads with an extra ounce of exuberance rather than prove to be a draining burden. Chris Coleman has the quality needed to make an everlasting mark on this tournament and is keen to highlight the aura of excitement rather than trepidation saying; “We know why we’re here, but what’s coming is something we’ve never experienced. It’s a huge challenge for us, and one we deserve.
This is what we’ve been screaming for.”. The new twenty-four team format ensures that, in most cases, a single win can ensure safe passage to the knock-out phase, hopefully the Welsh can attain that on Saturday.