Tag Archives: Euro 2016

Tyler Roberts – The next big thing in Welsh Football?

‘I think the biggest compliment I could give him is that you wouldn’t have known that he was so young; he fit straight in – a very talented lad.’

Those were the words of captain Ashley Williams following Wales’ unforgettable 1-0 win over Belgium at the Cardiff City Stadium last week. ‘Who was he talking about?’, I hear you ask. West Bromwich Albion’s and Wales’ newest and most exciting strike prospect, Tyler Roberts.

Another thing you might be wondering right now is why I asked about a 16-year-old prospect after one of my country’s most memorable victories in recent times, without a doubt for at least 13 years. Well, that’s how highly I rate this guy.

I’ve not seen him play too often but, to paraphrase Al Pacino in (the abysmal) Ocean’s Thirteen, some people I take very seriously have told me that Tyler Roberts is a very serious football player.

My only live glimpse of Roberts’ talents came on a cold night in Bangor, North Wales (like a cold night in Stoke, but more difficult) late last year when Osian Roberts’ Wales Under-16s got their teeth stuck into what would be their first outright victorious Victory Shield Campaign since the 1948/49 season, beating England 1-0 in their first game of the tournament.

It was obvious almost immediately that this guy was something special – the whole team played well, don’t get me wrong. A real embodiment at times of the ‘Welsh Way’ of playing the game that Gary Speed, Chris Coleman and Osian Roberts had/have worked so hard to implement and develop over the last few years – quick passing and great movement combined with astute defensive work.

But Roberts stood out for me because he just did everything.

Captaining a side at that age, you don’t necessarily expect the kind of hands-on performance that you might see from the likes of Wayne Rooney in the Premier League or whoever when they get involved with everything but ‘TyRo’ did that. He took free-kicks, he dropped off and got involved with the build-up, he worked the goalkeeper and was involved in what would be the winning goal for Wales which was scored by Cardiff City defensive prospect, Liam Angel. A really great performance before being substituted after 73 minutes.

You can always put one great performance down to a fluke of course; I’m sure we’ve all had a game where we’ve felt like Lionel Messi or whoever, but this wasn’t that and Roberts had a great campaign overall, notching two assists and getting a goal himself in the remaining two games against Scotland and Northern Ireland. He’s quick, powerful, tall and looks an intelligent footballer!

Since then, his season has just gone from strength to strength. West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis, proud of his Welsh roots himself, clearly values him and has labelled Roberts a ‘very promising talent for the future’, evidenced by the fact that Roberts made the bench for West Brom’s final game of the season against Arsenal, and also made a trip to Old Trafford earlier on in the season, but was only involved in the warmup, as West Brom won 1-0 against Manchester United.

Invaluable experience for the youngster!

And now, he’s had a great training camp by all accounts with Wales’ senior team and there really should be a place for him in that team in the future. It’s probably the first time in 30 years or so that Wales haven’t had a really top-class number 9. Over the years Wales have had the likes of Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Craig Bellamy, John Toshack, John Hartson and Robert Earnshaw – all very good for Wales in their own right but an argument could be made that the current crop of forwards (not including Gareth Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu who are wingers, sometimes deployed as forwards) aren’t at that level.

It would be foolhardy of course to say that Roberts is at that level yet, because he isn’t, not yet. He could well be though in a few years’ time if he continues his current rate of development! Hopefully for Wales fans, we can see him making his Premier League debut next season.

Everyone and their dog in the Welsh media has been quite quick to enquire, in light of Wales’ recent success, about the Golden Generation – is this current crop the one? If they qualify for Euro 2016 then you’d be hard-pressed to argue against that! The next generation, however, led by the likes of Tyler Roberts could surpass that still!

Do the hopes of two nations hinge on Haifa clash?

Following tremendous starts that have seen both sides go unbeaten in Euro 2016 qualifying so far, Israel welcome Wales to Haifa on Saturday in what is rightly being labelled the biggest game of the group to date.

Wales manager Chris Coleman labelled this game as Wales’ biggest since their Euro 2004 playoff with Russia, which the Welsh lost 1-0 on aggregate over two legs.

At the squad announcement last week, Coleman said: ‘This next game will be the biggest game in Welsh football for years, since Russia. It is an absolutely huge game for us.

‘Top against second! The next two games are going to dictate whether we finish in the top two or whether we’re fighting for third.’

The History

Anyone who knows the history of the Welsh national side knows not to get ahead of themselves too much because, like against Russia, or against Romania or Scotland in years gone by, it can all go so wrong so quickly.

Confidence in Welsh football right now is at it’s highest since that 2004 campaign and some have argued that there are striking similarities between now and then.

On both occasions, Wales went undefeated in the opening four games as well as securing perhaps unlikely results both home and away in both campaigns, in this campaign’s case perhaps the two 0-0 draws and in 2004’s case the Italy/Finland wins.

Perhaps what is fuelling Wales’ fans pessimism, or will at least be at the back of their minds, is what happened after the opening four games of Euro 2004 qualifying (Wales didn’t win another game in that campaign).

Old habits die hard

Two problems Wales have had over the years, both interlinked in previous campaigns, are an abundance of injuries and a lack of commitment.

For the first time this campaign, Wales have a (more or less) full strength squad to choose from as they go into this international clash against Israel.

Earlier in the campaign, Wales were rocked by over a dozen injuries as they faced Bosnia and Cyprus in a double header at the Cardiff City Stadium.

This time there is just a handful of injuries to worry about, something that leaves Chris Coleman with a nice selection headache for once in midfield.

Despite the fact that Jonny Williams is still out, Chris Coleman has to decide if he plays all three of Aaron Ramsey, Joe Ledley and Joe Allen in midfield, and in what system if so.

Wales have played a 3-5-2 and a 4-2-3-1 this campaign. No-one is expecting to see the former again as that was a system catered for Bosnia so if the three are to play in a 4-2-3-1 do we see Ramsey at number 10 with the other two sitting deep, and if so can he fulfil that role?

I think he can. Former FAW Head of Youth Development Chris Whitley described Ramsey to me as someone who ‘wants to take the corners and head them in’ so his commitment is beyond question.

He has the creativity to play in that role and, whilst some have said his performances for Wales recently haven’t been up to scratch, shifting him to 10 could change that.

On the commitment front, Ashley Williams is the perfect example of why those issues are now a thing firmly in Welsh national football’s past.

He will earn his fiftieth cap on Saturday, in only the 57th Wales fixture since his debut, so an amazing show of commitment from the Swansea City skipper.

Joe Allen, who knows the centre-back very well from their time playing alongside each other at Swansea City, said that Williams’ commitment is his most impressive trait:

‘Ash has been a fantastic influence on me, at club and international level. I think the commitment and the drive he has to succeed is brilliant and rubs off on the entire squad.’

James Chester won’t partner him at the back as Coleman left him out of the squad due to Chester’s longstanding shoulder injury but a Williams-Collins combination is a good alternative.

Coleman said: ‘Shoulder injuries take longer to recover than doctors say – it is a shame because he’s been magnificent for us and has struck a great partnership with Ashley.’

Bale Bother

For all of the criticism being levied at Gareth Bale in Spain at the moment, whether you think it is justified or not, his commitment for Wales cannot be questioned.

Chris Coleman commented in this regard: ‘Gareth comes here, he wants to be involved, he’s incredibly motivated – he is the last person I am worried about honestly.

‘We’re almost half way and we’ve got a really good chance. The pressure is on and he loves that pressure, he can handle that, that environment where everything is on the line.’

Wales left-back Neil Taylor reaffirmed the views of his manager and added that, despite the criticism, Bale isn’t taking any notice of it and is just enjoying his football:

‘I don’t know if playing here is a release for him, you’d have to ask him, but all I know is that he looks like he is enjoying his football.

‘He’s fit and ready, like everyone, he turns up for every trip and always gives his best so you can see how much he wants it as a Welshman.’

Whatever is being said, his talent is undeniable. The criticism and the car-bashing in Spain is too far. Sure he can improve but who can’t? If he scores the winner against Israel but has an awful game otherwise, which of those two facts would people remember more?

Israel’s Monsterous midfield

A bit if research will tell you that, although they aren’t doing it in the English Premier League or in La Liga, Israel’s midfield are more than competent goal-scorers!

Biharis Nacho, Eran Zahavi and Lios Refaelov have all scored tonnes of goals domestically this season – Zahavi has managed to get 25 on his own – and Damari up front is joint-top-scorer with Danny Welbeck in qualifying so far on five goals.

Israeli journalist Raphael Gellar told me of his confidence going into these fixtures: ‘It is a very good time for Israel. I expect us to beat Wales and hopefully get a point from Belgium.

However Gellar was realistic regarding the run Israel have had to get to this point in the group: ‘If we can get 3-4 points from the next two matches, I will be impressed.

‘I am not surprised we are doing well but at the same the only tough team we played is Bosnia (and arguably Cyprus) but Bosnia had several injured players and they didn’t support their manager.’

They’re no slouches on the defensive end either; when Israel played Portugal in the last campaign, they completely shut down Cristiano Ronaldo, so could they do the same with Bale?

What is clear is that this is a huge game for both teams – if Wales lose, does the memory of previous campaigns come back to haunt them? Will it be too big a task to pick the players up for the next game, which is at home to Belgium in June?

For Israel, this game is the first of a double-header that will decide what they’re fighting for in the group. If they lose to Wales, can the manager pick them up for a game three days later against Belgium,  one of the best international teams in football?

So much is on the line in this one for both sides – as a Welshman I will obviously be backing Coleman and the guys but Wales are absolutely going to be up against it in this one.

‘Gareth should stay where he is’, says Coleman

Chris Coleman has given his thoughts on the current criticism surrounding Wales talisman Gareth Bale saying he thinks the Real Madrid star should stay put, amidst speculation of a move back to England.

Bale has been labelled as lazy and a ball hog this season, but speaking after Wales’ squad announcement yesterday for their upcoming Euro 2016 qualifier against Israel in, Coleman said:

“He’s the most expensive player in the world, I think he’s been caught up in a bit of a storm but knowing Gareth I’d be really surprised if he turned around and said he’d had enough and wanted to leave.

“He’s good enough to win the big trophies and play on the biggest stage with one of the biggest clubs and Real Madrid fit that bill,” He added.

It is well known that winning isn’t enough at Real Madrid as fans, board members and the media always expect them to not only win, but to do it convincingly and entertain in the process.

Coleman acknowledges this: ‘They’re different to Chelsea because although the pressure is on to perform every game, it is almost like a show when watching Madrid, there has to be entertainment.

‘Although they lost to Schalke they still got through but that isn’t good enough at Madrid. You can’t just win one or two nil, you have to win by more than that and entertain at the same time.’

After a 22-match winning streak that saw Madrid trail-blaze their way to the top of La Liga, their momentum has taken a serious hit recently and they’ve been criticised a lot as a result.

The Wales manager said: ‘Because it is Real Madrid and they are who they are if you’re not top of the league and banging in the goals every game then the fans aren’t going to be happy.

‘If you look at what has been said it is quite a personal attack on Bale – you can’t say they’ve not done as well in two or three games because of Gareth Bale’s performance, that just isn’t correct.’

The ex-Fulham manager feels that the criticism being levied at Bale is a bit too personal, and unfair given the tempo of the league and the work-rate of some of his Madrid teammates:

‘It is getting personal but lazy is the one word I wouldn’t use for Gareth Bale. He’s always up there far up beyond anyone else in his sprinting. I hope his tenure at Madrid doesn’t become untenable.

‘La Liga is different to the Premier League, the tempo is different, England is much less forgiving but he’s in better shape for us now as a result of him being there, playing twice, three times a week.

‘He does a lot of work Gareth, a lot of running and that’s his game when he gets the ball he’s off. I watch every Madrid game and you don’t often see Ronaldo, Benzema or Isco running back.’

Despite the criticism being thrown his way, Bale isn’t having any issues according to Coleman: ‘I spoke to his agent a few days ago and there’s absolutely no issues with him, he’s fine’

Bale has been praised this season whilst donning the Wales shirt for developing leadership qualities that have benefitted the Wales squad; Coleman says Bale loves the group ethic that has developed:

‘When he comes with us, it’s us, it’s a group thing and that’s our strength – he likes it. When he goes to Haifa next week he could have a bad game, but he could score a goal that wins us the match.

‘What he does do is he works hard for us and he fits into the system, whether we play him down the middle, out wide, at 9 or at 10, he knows wherever he plays it is to get to where we need to go.’

In spite of all the criticism, Coleman is adamant that Bale will have his mind firmly focussed on the task at hand when he joins up with the Wales squad next week and that reaching Euro 2016 is his aim.

‘The goal is to get enough points to go to France and that’s where he wants to be, that’s where he belongs at a tournament as one of the best players in football so I’m not worried when he joins us.’

‘We’re almost half way and we’ve got a chance, a really good chance. The pressure is on and he loves that pressure, he can handle that, that environment where everything is on the line.’

 

Vokes returns to squad for Wales’ ‘biggest game in 12 years’

Following a terrific start to their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, Chris Coleman this morning announced his Wales squad for what he is calling Wales’ biggest game since 2003.

Back then, Wales faced a two-legged Euro 2004 playoff against Russia to uplift for the final tournament but lost out, losing 1-0 on aggregate.

Coleman said: ‘This next game will be the biggest game in Welsh football for years, since Russia. It is an absolutely huge game for us.

‘Top against second! The next two games are going to dictate whether we finish in the top two or whether we’re fighting for third.’

No Chester

The squad contained all of the usual names, as well as the returning Sam Vokes and Simon Church but there was no place for James Chester who has missed a lot of time with a shoulder injury.

There had been speculation as to whether or not Chester would be included as he is expected to make a return this weekend against Chelsea but Coleman was very dismissive of the possibility.

‘I don’t think he’ll play this weekend. You never know but speaking to James last week I can’t see him playing, and even so he’s been out a long time.

‘Shoulder injuries take longer to recover than doctors usually say – it is a shame because he’s been magnificent for us and has struck a great partnership with Ashley (Williams).’

Big 50th

Ashley Williams is expected to win his 50th cap for Wales in the game against Israel and Coleman was full of praise for his skipper.

’50 caps – it was inevitable really for him – he’s a great captain and great leader and what better game to get his 50th in?

‘Ashley’s been in the real world; he didn’t start at a top Premier League academy or anything – he saw what life is really like.

‘He respects and cherishes every game he plays – that’s why he doesn’t miss games – he loves his job.’

The Wales manager also noted how he expects many more players to break the 50 and, hopefully, 100 cap barriers for Wales in the coming years.

‘We don’t have any players with over 100 caps. Of course we don’t get regular tournament football but still.

‘Ash could do it and get 100 but so could Chris Gunter – 57 caps is a very impressive return but we’re trying to push them to as many caps as we can.’

Vokes Return

Coleman thinks Sam Vokes, who has made a comeback from injury in recent weeks, adds something to the squad that they haven’t had before.

‘A few times we’ve created scenarios in the games where we’re getting balls into the box that would’ve been ideal for Sam so it is great to have him back.

‘Watching him come back into the fray, it is clear he isn’t 100% but he’s two or three weeks away and, most importantly, back playing football.’

The former Fulham manager also praised Burnley for the way they have handled Vokes in his return from the long injury layoff.

‘Dyche has managed it in the correct way. Some managers might’ve pushed Sam back into the team quicker if they were in the position Burnley were in earlier in the season but he’s handled Sam really well.’

Bale Criticism

Israel’s manager recently made comments  saying Bale was saving himself for Wales amidst criticism of his form for Real Madrid. Coleman jokingly responded: ‘If he is then it is great for me!’

He added ‘When you play for Real Madrid, winning is not enough – you have to entertain too! Gareth’s a big boy and he’ll come through this no problem.’

Reporters asked Coleman whether or not the comments were mind games designed to unsettle Bale further. Coleman simply responded saying it showed Bale is on their minds:

‘I think they’ll be thinking about him – I would be! Most teams would be looking at him – whether he’s on form or not he can turn a game on its head.

‘Gareth comes here, he wants to be involved, he’s incredibly motivated – he is the last person I am worried about honestly.

‘I’ve never been one for mind games. I’d rather get down to business when the whistle blows and see what we can do.’

The Wales squad fly out to Tel Aviv late next week ahead of their qualifier in Haifa on Saturday the 28th; the game kicks off at 5pm on Sky Sports 5.

“So Much More To Come” – Chris Coleman on Wales’ Progress.

Chris Coleman last night fired a warning shot to Wales’ Euro 2016 qualification rivals by insisting that there is so much more to come from his young, high-flying national side.

Following an event at Conwy Borough Football Club which saw the Welsh Men’s National Side manager open a new clubhouse, Coleman was happy to speak to me briefly about Wales’ progress.

Following on from Wales’ relatively straightforward fixture against Belgium, the ex-Fulham manager is keen to outline how much the side had learnt and benefitted from the adversity they’d faced in previous fixtures.

“In every game so far we’ve had a bit of adversity and we’ve handled it really well, no matter what the conditions have been whether it be the pitch in Andorra or the amount of injuries against Bosnia and Cyprus. We’ve got over every bump in the road really well and that speaks to the character of these players.

It is fine having the ability in football but you have to have the mentality as well and the last few months have proved that these players have both.” He said.

The Welsh National side is a very young one; the starting XI against Belgium had an average age of just over 25-years-old and with youngsters such as George Williams (19), Jonathan Williams (21) and Harry Wilson (17) coming through, the manager believes the future is bright for Wales.

“They’re so young so we have a lot of years left to work with this squad and that’s great because we’re going to have a lot of players who have experienced a lot of adversity together and know how to deal with it and that can only be good for Welsh Football.” He said.

Adversity and character are two words that pop up frequently in our brief conversation as Coleman argues that one leads to another and can only serve to bring the best out of his side.

“There’s a lot more to come from this side. All of the experience they’re getting now coming through the adversity that they’ve come through is great because it shapes them and their character.”

Although he initially struggled to get things right after taking the Wales job in incredibly unfortunate and difficult circumstances, the former Wales defender believes he has found the secret to success.

“The secret to success here is getting players who don’t regularly play together, some who don’t even play at all, outside of the national side to play like a strong cohesive unit for 90 minutes.

Wayne Hennessey has been absolutely wonderful – Chris Gunter, Robson-Kanu, Joe Ledley, Joe Allen, George Williams, Dave Cotterill and so on – it is definitely a collective effort.” He said.

Sensing that, after going four games undefeated in qualification and losing only one of the last nine at home, momentum is with his side, Coleman is chomping at the bit for Wales to get going again.

“If I had my way we’d have gone to Israel five days after the Belgium game to keep the momentum going but the fixtures are the way they are and we have to wait until March.

We’re taking everything on a game-by-game basis. My target now is obviously to win against Israel then it’ll be to win the next one and the next one to put ourselves in the best position to get to France in 2016.” The ex-Sociedad manager added.

Whilst coming to the conclusion of the interview, news filters through of Wales’ triumph in the Victory Shield Competition – the first time the Welsh have secured an outright win of the competition since 1948/49 – Coleman is elated that Wales’ focus on their youth is paying off.

“The win is a strong indicator that all of the FAW’s hard work down in the lower levels of Welsh Football is paying off – developing the youth is the name of the game.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re coaching them right, treating them right and making sure they develop correctly.”

One thing is for sure – if the youth follow the example that the senior national side is setting right now then future is very, very bright for Welsh football!

Brussels will show what Bale and Co. are really made of!

The best start to a qualifying campaign for 12 years, undefeated after three games, leading two recent World Cup Finalists at the top of their group – it sounds like it has been a great few months for Welsh Football.

On Sunday though they’ll face their toughest test of the group to date as Chris Coleman and his men head to Belgium to face one of the most complete sides in Europe in their own backyard. Read on to see how we assess Wales’ chances!

The Story so Far:

Despite the numerous plus points mentioned earlier on, Wales’ start hasn’t been without its difficulties – each of the three matches played so far have brought their own problems.

In Andorra the pitch was a talking point, to say the least.

The Welsh were the first team to play on the artificial pitch and it was clear to see that the surface hadn’t had the required attention from Mother Nature that it needed – a splash of rain beforehand would’ve made for a completely different match.

Nonetheless, victories earned through adversity build character.

That character was thoroughly tested throughout the next international window as, with a midfield ravaged by injury, Wales had to switch to 5-3-2 to keep Bosnia honest before an early injury and a sending off made the Cyprus clash much more complicated than it should have been.

The Welsh persisted though and found themselves top of the group on merit.

A new dilemma:

Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Robert Earnshaw, John Hartson, Craig Bellamy – over the last 30 years Wales have had a recognised threat leading the line for them.

Yes, Wales have Bale now but he fills the role that Giggs filled back in his day – both mercurial talents but even they can’t do it all on their own.

Giggs’ list of strike partners has been listed above – who has Bale got?

Simon Church has been the striker of choice so far but for one reason or another hasn’t been able to get going and is set to miss this clash because of an injury – the right man to replace him is Hal Robson-Kanu.

He’s not a striker by trade, as you will know, but certain facets of his game cover one of Wales’ and Bale’s biggest weaknesses – that they don’t press the ball early, nor robustly enough at times.

Bale’s sometimes lacking defensive effort has been well documented and against Bosnia Simon Church was just as guilty – I think it speaks wonders for the last two matches that they both swung Wales’ way when Robson-Kanu led the attack with Bale.

Also, with Robson-Kanu picking up some defensive responsibilities, it means Bale can concentrate more on finding the spaces that will make him so dangerous on the counter-attack.

Robson-Kanu is so dynamic, tireless and really encourages his teammates to press the ball early and vigorously and with Church out with an injury, the stage is set for him to step up to the plate!

A lot to be optimistic about:

Although there are still a few notable absentees, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen return in this fixture and despite the form of their respective clubs, it’ll be a huge boost for Wales to have them back.

Make no mistake – this is a great opportunity for Wales. They’re playing the best football they’ve played for years and will go to Belgium with thousands of supporters behind them.

Factor in that Vincent Kompany is a doubt and that some of Belgium’s better individuals haven’t always been their same mesmerising selves when playing for their country as they are for their clubs and you could forgive the Welsh fans for being quite optimistic going into the game.

Belgium showed in the World Cup that they struggle to get into a rhythm at times and if Wales can continue to work as relentlessly as they have in defence so far in this group, they can do well here.

The Welsh have had issues to contend with so far in this group: bad pitches, injuries, etc. however heading into this game they are in great shape and have as good a chance as ever of making it four games undefeated in the group!