Wales are heading into the great unknown, with Euro 2016 their first ever appearance at the continental showpiece. But the Dragons have nothing to fear in their first game against Slovakia, with Chris Coleman’s men having all the attributes to sweep aside the fellow new boys. Here’s why.
Talented Welsh midfield will out-pass their opponents
As a side built largely on their defensive strength, Wales’ possession stats may surprise some. They had the lions’ share of the ball both home and away against Israel in qualifying, and 70 per cent or more in both games against Andorra. Minnows or not, that’s an impressive feat.
And that dominance on the ball by a midfield with creative talents like Aaron Ramsey and Joe Ledley will prove too quick-thinking and inventive for a Slovakian midfield which possesses a few weak spots. Those include the mediocre Vladimir Weiss and Stanislav Sestak, who play their football in Qatar and Hungary respectively.
Better sides have failed to break Wales down
Belgium are many people’s Euros tip, and they have only failed to score in two of the 18 games they’ve played since World Cup 2014. So, what happened in that pair of games? Wales happened.
Coleman’s men produced a pair of shutouts against De Rode Duivels, as the Dragons finished their Euros qualifying group having conceded just four goals in ten games.
And if Belgium and Bosnia can be shut out by the Welsh defence, Slovakia look unlikely to breach their backline. They’ve failed to score against Latvia, Northern Ireland, Spain, Belarus and Ukraine during the past 12 months. And on that note…
Forget the Germany result – Slovakia aren’t in great form
The Slovenski sokoli (or ‘Slovakian falcons’) as the team are affectionately known, turned heads with May’s 3-1 victory at Germany. But a famous win over a half-awake German side who seemed distracted by their packing lists for France doesn’t tell the whole story.
Two defeats in the past 10 months – including a loss to lowly Belarus – challenge the theory that they’re a side in fine fettle. Even in victory, they’ve frequently been unconvincing – conceding twice at home to minnows Luxembourg, en route to a narrow victory in October 2015.
Bale will run Slovakia’s ageing defence ragged
It’s a battle which pits one of the world’s quickest wingers against one of the tournament’s slowest and most aged defences, so there only seems one likely winner in this contest.
Bale – who scored seven times in qualifying – is set to be up against Slovakian defensive regulars Jan Durica, Martin Skrtel and Kornel Salata, all of whom are the wrong side of 30.
Having struggled to cope with the pace of the Luxembourg frontline last Autumn, expect them to be undone time and again by a far greater threat in Bale, as well as the pacy Hal Robson-Kanu and the in-form Sam Vokes.
Coleman is a top tactician
It’s no secret that the former Coventry City gaffer is a good man-manager who has built a club atmosphere within a squad where the players are spread out over 17 different sides.
One thing less publicised is his tactical nous. Having abandoned the 4-5-1 system which failed during World Cup 2014 qualifying, the Swansea-born boss has adopted a 5-3-2 for games against the so-called ‘international heavyweights’ and 3-5-2 against less imposing and slower sides, and it has worked superbly.
With Slovakia more rigid proponents of the 4-5-1, chances are they’ll struggle to break down a well-organised Wales backline, and even their conservative formation is unlikely to snuff out a dynamic Welsh frontline.
The Dragons look to be fantastic value at 9/5 for victory, while a Slovakia win can be backed at 12/5, with the draw on at 2/1.
However, the best bets of all may come in backing Wales to win 2-0 at 10/1, and the 8/5 for Gareth Bale to score anytime – something he’s managed in four of his last seven outings for the national side.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.