The 2016 European Championships officially kick-off next week – finally! – and this time around Wales are a part of the action too following a superb qualifying campaign.
And the country’s record goalscorer Ian Rush is in little doubt how much it all means to his country.
Making their first appearance in a major finals since 1958, Chris Coleman’s squad are also making their Euros bow, and we caught up with Rush to get his views on what will be a historic summer for Wales.
The former Liverpool legend spoke exclusively to Ladbrokes News at our #ForTheFans event this week, where he told us just how he thinks the national side will get on.
With 73 caps to his name and of course that national record of 28 goals – Gareth Bale isn’t quite there yet – who better to give their opinion on how the Dragons will fare in France?
Wales at the Euros
It’s been incredible.
We’ve waited since 1958 to be at a finals and there’s going to be over 30,000 Welsh fans travelling in support, so it’s putting Wales on the map worldwide and that’s what it’s all about.
Rugby is the number one sport in Wales but it’s putting football on the map for us and it’s I think it’s great for the country and even the economy should benefit too.
The tournament is difficult to predict but I think there are going to be interesting games. I think England and Wales will both qualify from the group and if that happens then it will represent a big success for us.
England v Wales
Well, it’s tough to predict of course but I don’t think Wales are going to lose.
I’m not saying Wales are going to win, but I think it becomes a Premier League game really, a British game and I don’t think Wales will lose that.
What I’m saying is I think it’s going to end up as a draw because it’s going to be so tight, two teams fighting for everything.
Maybe it means a little bit more to Wales than England, but I think it’s one of those games where if Wales can go there and not lose, it’ll be a good result.
Gareth Bale is definitely the key man, but also you’ve got Aaron Ramsey as well.
We have two world class players who can win games and not a lot of teams – even some of the favourites to win it – can say they have that. We have that.
We also have a very tight defence. We only conceded four goals in qualifying so I think the strongest point of Wales is that solidity coupled with team spirit.
The team will be thinking ‘if we can keep a clean sheet, we have two players that can win you the game’ and people like Hal Robson-Kanu, with all the work-rate they put in, creating space for Bale and Ramsey, I think that goes to show how good the team spirit is.
Is there an advantage to be gained by being debutants?
No, I think it’s advantage England, this is all new to Wales.
You need a little bit of luck with regards to injuries of course, but it’s all brand new to Wales, England know what to do.
And more importantly as a squad, England have a stronger squad so that makes a difference.
I will say I think Wales will benefit from the Euros.
We are not just looking at the Euros, we have to be looking at the World Cup, and we have to learn.
When the Euros are over we need to see how we’ve done,and hopefully take that into preparation for the next World Cup as well. England have been doing just that for how many years now?
The dark horse has to be Belgium.
Individually, Belgium have the best players, but they remind me of Holland teams from years gone by, who had the best individuals but couldn’t get over the line when it mattered.
If they can get that together, then I think they can win, but they haven’t done it so far.
This is the time for them to do it. If they don’t do it this time, I think they can end up being in the same boat as the Dutch.
They’re great on their day and can beat anyone, but to win the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final you need to play three good games and they have got a good chance to do that this time.
I think France will make the semi-finals at least, with the history they’ve got. They’ve won the Euros on home soil and they’ve won the World Cup on home soil.
I think Germany are also going to get minimum to the semi-finals. As for the rest? You don’t know.
Spain are revamping, Italy are revamping, but England could be there, if they play the young ones and they produce on the day.
But I’m going with Antoine Griezmann to be top scorer, because top scorers normally gets to semi-finals and finals. Robert Lewandowski and Poland could be there too.
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