After becoming the feel-good story of Euro 2016, Wales will want another piece of the action at Euro 2020.
The Welsh went on a memorable run to the semi-finals, famously beating the much-fancied Belgium 3-1 along the way.
Can they reach the finals for the second tournament in a row? They’ll need a certain man to be at the top of his game…
The talisman returns
Gareth Bale’s influence to his national team can’t be overstated. The Real Madrid ace netted seven of Wales’ 11 goals to reach France in 2016.
He then netted in all three group games and was unfortunate to not be named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.
Four years on, can he do the same again?
Since his heroics in France, Bale’s time in club football hasn’t gone too well. Despite plenty of Champions League success – including that brilliant double in last season’s final versus Liverpool – it appears tensions between Bale and Real Madrid are at a new high.
The return of Zinedine Zidane is unlikely to help the forward’s cause either. Zidane was often reluctant to use Bale in the big games and continued reports about Neymar’s or Eden Hazard’s arrival may yet send the Welshman further down the pecking order.
But what it means is that the 29-year-old is likely to see international duty as a breath of fresh air. He’ll be away from the scrutiny of the Spanish press.
Bale is nothing short of a hero in his homeland, and he often revels as leader of his country. So Wales should be getting the best from their talismanic forward.
The challenge ahead
And Bale, along with the rest of the Welsh side, will know they have a great chance of making the multi-national tournament in just over 12 months’ time.
That’s because they’re in a group of five, alongside Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary and Azerbaijan.
With the top two sides progressing to the finals, Wales need only better three other sides from eight games.
Granted, Croatia are likely group winners, but Wales are 7/2 to top Group E. They’re also ranked 10 spots higher than Slovakia, and are 33 spots above the Hungarians.
Welsh talent coming through
Bale isn’t the only man who can change the game as Ryan Giggs’ bids to lead Wales into a qualifying campaign for the first time.
David Brooks has had an exceptional season with Bournemouth, while Aaron Ramsey continues to have a huge impact at Arsenal ahead of his move to Juventus.
Then there’s seasoned pro Joe Allen to steady the ship, while Harry Wilson has enjoyed a tremendous campaign with Derby County. James Lawrence and Ethan Ampadu have exciting futures too.
There is plenty for Welsh supporters to be excited about. But nobody would argue that they are a far greater threat when Bale is at his best.
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