How Wales Is Spearheading An European Football Revolution
When Iceland, a nation of 350,000 citizens stopped the Netherlands from qualifying to the ongoing European Championships, many thought it was due to the drop in form of the Dutch and not the fact that Iceland were just now a better side.
On Friday, the erstwhile unthinkable has struck the European Championships as Wales, a nation of three million people, have qualified for their first ever semifinals in a major tournament.
They eliminated Belgium (Europe’s No 1 ranked team and second on the Fifa rankings) by scoring a remarkable 3-1 victory.
2016 is the first time that Wales have ever qualified to the European Championships. Their team is not only made up of first division and second division players. but in Hal Robson-Kanu they have a player who is a free agent (clubless) at the moment.
Wales topped their group stage that features England, Russia and Slovakia, by beating Russia 3-0, Slovakia 2-1 and losing to England 1-2. The loss to England was the only game where they did not play their game.
Iceland sent the English packing in a convincing fashion with a 2-1 victory in the group of 16 stages and all of a sudden it has struck the world that these type of victories are no longer just a flash in the pan. Indeed, a pattern seems to have set in, but the question is why?
A look at the figures shed more light on the magnitude of what is happening here and its ramifications.
England, with a population of 53 million people, has the most lucrative league in the world (the Premier League) are regarded as the ‘parents of football’.
Belgium, meanwhile, with a population of 11 million people, is littered with talented players and is Europe’s number 1 team.
However, all these figures did not stop them from being outclassed by so-called smaller soccer nations.
In contrast to their victims, Wales and Iceland have played to their strengths and based their game plans more on team work than individual exploits. World-class players like Gareth Bale of Wales have sacrificed themselves to the service and the cause of the team.
Iceland regroup quickly when not in possession of the ball and literally “outmuscle” their opponents in their defensive third. Tehy base their success on quick transitions from defence to attack in a varied manner that is sometimes through the middle but also via the flanks that keep their opponents guessing.
Wales are also way better than many give them credit for, because unlike most United Kingdom nations and Welsh teams of the past, this current Welsh group of players has the capacity to pass the ball around in the team and with players like Allen, Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale and Kanu this is very smart as these players can play. Kudos to the coach Chris Coleman for the gameplan.
These teams are trying to change the soccer landscape of Europe by playing to their strengths and really showing their opponents that they will take the fight to them and not just be swept aside.
However, many argue that these smaller teams are able to compete this way at this time of the year because they have relatively fresher players.
The argument is that they have players who play in relatively smaller clubs and leagues who play less matches in the season compared to the players from the big teams and leagues who have had to play over 70 matches in the same period. They argue that these players are burnt out at the end of the football season and are in desperate need of a break.
I admit there could be some truth in this, but Welsh fans will tell you that these eliminated teams also could have better mapped out their game plans and preparations to accommodate their own situations. And the question is how come the Germans and the Italians are still going strong and making a big impact on the Championships?
These smaller nations are definitely making the best of the new format of the Euros that allows for 24 teams as opposed to the erstwhile 16-team format that existed in the past.
This new setting gives them a better chance to be present at the Championships stage proper and make an impact.
By qualifying to the semifinals of the European Championships in an emphatic manner over Belgium, Wales have probably started the revolution to dethrone Europe’s presumptive top countries. Results like these might spill over into the World cup qualifiers to Russia scheduled to get under way soon.
This time around, Iceland cost Holland a place in the European Championships. Who will be next European giant that could miss out on the World Cup due to Wales or another smaller nation? Only time will tell.