by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 12th 2014)
Over 30,000 supporters found their belief once more at the Cardiff City Stadium on Friday night. Having lost their way after the tragic suicide of popular Welsh manager Gary Speed, Chris Colemanʼs team are playing with confidence and belief once more. Only the Netherlands have beaten them in 2014.
“They [the fans] got us over the line Friday night”, Coleman said. “They were brilliant. Please, please come back and support us. Iʼve never seen a team applauded off like they were Friday night when they havenʼt won”.
Wales tops the group – Belgium the group favourites have only played once. They trounced Andorra as did Wales. Thereʼs talk of returning to the far larger Millennium Stadium thanks to the support.
Despite boasting some exceptionally talented players: Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy, and of course, Gary Speed, among others in recent years, the Welsh are well aware that Mark Hughes, Ian Rush, Neville Southall graced their clubs before that and John Toshack was a member of the great Liverpool side on the 1970s, but they never matched those feats for Wales.
Coleman is well aware of the blot as are his players. Wales have not played in a major finals since 1958. They are determined to put that right. If they qualify this time 58 will be a significant number again as it will be 58 years since they achieved that feat in 1958.
Goal-keeper Wayne Hennessey says that the Welsh believe the time has come to deliver on their promise. “Well, weʼre hoping so”, Hennessey said. “Weʼre putting everything together. Weʼve got a great bunch of lads, staff and everything. Everythingʼs there for us to go straight forward, so hopefully we can. Like I say, weʼve got a great squad here now, great set-up all the staff, so hopefully we can go forward”.
Delivering the Promise
Readingʼs Hal Robson-Kanu has no doubt that it is time that Wales delivered on their promise and that they are going to. “Well obviously itʼs a campaign, but as a group of players, weʼre fully focussed on what we have to do”, he told us.
The core of the squad developed under Speed and seemed poised to deliver then before tragedy struck. Coleman had a rocky start, but now the belief has returned and the football is blossoming. Robson-Kanu is convinced the long wait is about to end.
“I think with the group weʼve got now, weʼve been together for four, five – some of us six – years, weʼve always had that belief. We knew there was core players. Weʼre all at the right age. Weʼre at a young age and weʼve progressed together and obviously with world class players in the squad and in the team I think that weʼve always had that optimism, but now itʼs about time to deliver and thatʼs what weʼre doing”.
Both Hennessey and Robson-Kanu are not regulars for their clubs – Crystal Palace and Reading, but are contributing for Wales. Bosnia-Herzegovinaʼs manager Safet Sušić is one of his countryʼs greatest ever players. He thought Hennessey and his keeper Asmir Begović were the best players on Friday night.
Where some players previously looked for an excuse not to play for their country, Coleman has seen the opposite – commitment of the highest order exemplified by Chris Gunterʼs attitude. The defender had a groin problem and heard that Coleman was considering resting him. He told his manager that he would be fit for the match against the Netherlands and was.
But some Welsh players are not playing for their clubs. For Coleman there are both positives and negatives in this. “[itʼs a] Double-edged sword”, he said. “[Theyʼre] hungry to play, but havenʼt got match practice”.
Wales face Cyprus on Monday night at the Cardiff City Stadium, knowing that a win will keep them top of the group, whatever group favourites Belgium achieve in Bosnia-Herzegovina.