Wales ranked 10th in the world by FIFA: how did the Dragons do it?
Wales have made sporting history for their nation, entering FIFA’s world rankings in 10th position for the first time thanks to their fantastic Euro 2016 qualifying campaign efforts.
In just four years, the determined Dragons (11/10 with Coral to win Euro 2016 qualifying Group B) have risen through the ranks from a lowest-ever 117th spot up to 10th in the table to be counted among illustrious company like Argentina, Brazil and Germany et al. Quite the turnaround.
Wales’ well-documented struggles to qualify for major tournaments, despite a regular sprinkling of top quality players, has always somewhat mystified supporters, but now the Dragons have the world, or Euro 2016, almost at their feet.
Chris Coleman’s side are still one below eternal home nation rivals England, though have arguably stepped out of the Three Lions’ shadow with fantastic performances, but have sped ahead of giants such as Spain and France. Minnows Romania have also crashed the top 10 to sneak in at position eight, highlighting the potential pitfalls of such rankings.
However, it cannot be denied that the Land of Castles have turned their footballing fortunes around and deserve every ounce of their recognition for consistently excellent results over 2014/15.
What exactly is behind the nation’s sudden shot to prominence?
After former coach Gary Speed had steadied the ship, a role which cannot be undervalued in providing a base for Wales’ current success, tragic circumstances forced Coleman to take over the reins in the Welsh capital.
The former Real Sociedad and Coventry City coach had many doubters at the beginning, but his ability to inspire his Dragons to beat the big-guns, battering and banishing any remnants of an inferiority complex, soon got supporters onside.
Statistically and historically speaking, Wales should not be slaying the likes of Belgium, ranked second in the world when they succumbed to their hosts in a rocking Cardiff City Stadium, but the ferocious Dragons have managed to navigate what looked to be a tough year of international football without breaking a sweat.
Wales last lost in a dead-rubber friendly against the Dutch in 2014, but before that not since World Cup qualifying way back in 2013, which says something for their new-found resilience. It was a rampant run including a famous draw and win against Belgium, plus a splitting of the spoils with then highly-positioned Bosnia and Herzegovina that has seen them surge into the top 10, though.
Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale, this generation’s Ryan Giggs, is, although not the captain, the inspiration behind the Dragons’ defiance, with a fantastic five goals in his last six international outings including two terrific and vital braces.
It has been a long time since the Welsh have been able to boast a forward threat at the peak of fitness and form, as well as power, who can change a game in an instant. Bale is just that player and, perhaps more importantly, always willing to sacrifice for his country, whether on the wing or shoehorned in up top as a false nine.
Only five players have been more prolific for Wales, with Bale now just two shy of equalling Craig Bellamy on 19 strikes. The wing wizard is not alone in shouldering the attacking burden, however, as Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey has also been chipping in with his fair share of late.
In fairness to the likes of Bellamy and Giggs, Bale also has a much more stable and solid spine to support him, with the Dragons’ defensive diligence key. It’s hard to remember when Wales were last so tough to get past, with four clean sheets from their past six games. Wayne Hennessey, Ashley Williams and co take a bow.
It is unquestionably belief that is the main difference between Wales teams past and present, however, with Joe Allen and Hal Robson-Kanu two players who can underwhelm at club level though regularly turn it on for their country.
A few poor results could easily see Coleman’s men falter in qualifying and subsequently slide back down the rankings and FIFA’s estimations, though fans will be hoping this bullish confidence is now ingrained and unshakable.
Bigger tests are yet to come should Wales (125/1 to win Euro 2016) reach France but, though many would attempt to diminish the underdogs’ achievement, results don’t lie, so the Dragons should enjoy basking in their current glory as long as it lasts.