Euro 2016: Wales counting on Gareth Bale to bring success after a long wait

What do Welshman Ryan Giggs, Ian Rush and Mark Hughes have in common?

Aside from all having excelled at club level - collecting 44 major titles between them - none of the three ever played in a big international tournament. Don’t remind them of the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2004 near misses.

How they must wish they were part of this current Wales squad that will bring to an end 58 years of hurt when they take to the Stade Bordeaux field against Slovakia on 11 June.

Yes, they have Real Madrid’s two-time Champions League winner and most expensive player in the world Gareth Bale, and yes they have Arsenal’s box-to-box midfielder Aaron Ramsey, but it was also the belief instilled by manager Chris Coleman and fantastic team spirit that earned Y Dreigiau (The Dragons) their spot in France.

 Euro 2016: Wales counting on Gareth Bale to bring success after a long wait

Wales will expect its star Gareth Bale to fire in the Euros. Getty

So when was this spirit engendered?

Many would point back to the time when Gary Speed, who won 85 caps, managed his beloved country.

The former international took over the side at the end of 2010 and slap-bang in the middle of a Euro 2012 qualification campaign. That all started badly with Wales dropping to an all-time low Fifa ranking of 117, but nevertheless they started improving as a unit under Speed and by October 2011 they had risen to 45th.

However, just two weeks after a 4-1 friendly win over Norway, Speed was found dead at his home after committing suicide. He was only 42.

Even today, the memories of that time still remain raw for the players, fans and everybody else who felt a connection with the likeable Speed.

His friend Coleman was entrusted by the football association to take the reins under the most difficult circumstances.

Colemen's tenure began badly in 2012 and the country missed out of 2014 World Cup qualification.

But it was not long before Wales started to click. By July 2015, they found themselves top of their Euro 2016 qualifying group, unbeaten with four wins and two draws. They then overtook England in the Fifa rankings before cementing their passage into the finals in France.

So, who should you look out for?

The hipster fan would pick out a relatively obscure name, but let’s not kid ourselves - one player the world will have their eyes on is Bale, who scored seven goals during the qualifying campaign.

Fresh on the back of another Champions League success, the 26-year-old forward is relishing this opportunity.

“Our ambition is, and some people say it sounds crazy, but you have to think to try to win it,” he said after the victory over Atletico Madrid.

Far-fetched? Perhaps just as far-fetched as Greece winning Euro 2004 and Denmark winning Euro ‘92.

Ramsey is the other standout name having helped Arsenal to second in the Premier League this season. Keep an eye out for his standout bleached-blonde hair.

Both Crystal Palace’s heavily-bearded Joe Ledley and the “Welsh Pirlo” Joe Allen will provide more than able support in a strong midfield.

At the back, Coleman will rely upon their skipper and Swansea centre-back Ashley Williams to marshal the defence. Some would point out that area as their weakness, but bear in mind Wales only conceded five goals during qualifying.

The Welsh are in Group B along with British rivals England, Russia and Slovakia.

If their heavyweight players find their ‘A’ game then do not be surprised if Wales not only get out of the group, but also go far further than expected.

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Updated Date: Jun 10, 2016 18:11:08 IST