How the EURO 2016 qualifiers united our football nation
International
13 April 2020

How the EURO 2016 qualifiers united our football nation

Over the last few weeks we have been treating you with a re-run of the successful UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying campaign, as Chris Coleman's Cymru reached the finals of a major tournament for the first time in 58 years.

Over the Easter weekend, the defining game of the campaign was replayed in its entirety as a solitary goal from Gareth Bale defeated Belgium 1-0 on what will be remembered as the most-famous night for Cymru at a packed Cardiff City Stadium. It was the first game where the crowd made a difference, and the red wall was born.

Watching the series of qualifiers back in order and in quick succession, it's incredible to believe that it was less than an a year before the victory over Belgium in Cardiff that the side struggled to overcome Andorra. The action now continues on Wednesday night when the side head to Nicosia to take on Cyprus, still undefeated in the group.

But the campaign was about much more than just the win over Belgium, and reliving all of the qualifying games retrospectively has highlighted the evolution of that team, and how the confidence and belief grew  as the campaign progressed. 

While the 2-1 victory over Andorra was celebrated more through relief as Gareth Bale's brace saved embarrassment after falling a goal behind, the subsequent 2-1 victory over Cyprus in Cardiff and 0-0 draw with Bosnia and Herzegovina showed a consistency that had been missing in the previous campaign.

The team were clearly growing as individuals and as a unit, and the commanding nature of the 3-0 win over Israel in Haifa that followed confirmed the character and genuine belief within the squad that this campaign would be the one to bring redemption following years of criticism and disappointment.

The campaign was a coming of age moment for the majority of the squad. As impressionable young men, they had experienced tragedy when Gary Speed took his own life in November 2011, as it was Speed who had been the inspiration in bringing a new belief to the team through the increased professionalism that defined his tenure.

Following the appointment of Coleman, it was a time of unprecedented transition as the group came to terms with the loss of Speed, and the irrelevance that attached itself to meeting up on international duty without him. However, their unity soon became a source of strength, and Coleman's first victory over Scotland in October 2012 was a significant moment in finally finding closure.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign confirmed to Coleman that he would need to do things his own way if he was to succeed, and while his work was built on the foundations laid by Speed, changes needed to be made for the new manager to develop a team in his own vision. Ashley Williams was appointed captain, and a place at the expanded EURO 2016 finals became the primary target.

A convincing 3-1 friendly win over Iceland in Cardiff in March 2014 was comparable to the 4-1 win over Norway at the same stadium in November 2011. It would prove to be the best performance under Speed, and his last match as manager. It seemed that Cymru had rediscovered that same confidence and belief, and the performance against Iceland set an early marker for Coleman to take into the next qualifying campaign.

What was clear from the EURO 2016 campaign was how much the team developed and evolved throughout this period, both as individuals and as a collective unit, and how this continued into the finals itself. The timing of this evolution was perfect for Coleman, and the signs of progress were more than evident with each match as qualification edged closer.

But there was also a significant evolution off the field, as the Cardiff City Stadium sold-out for the fixture against Belgium, and the atmosphere and result meant that this would become the new normal for Cymru fixtures in the capital for the first time in a long time. United on and off the field, the stars were clearly aligning for Coleman.

Now heading into the business end of the campaign in our series of repeated fixtures, the psychological effects of coming close to qualification inevitably had an influence on the upcoming performances. Cymru went into the match as favourites against Cyprus, and in the knowledge that another victory would take Coleman's side significantly closer to a place at the EURO 2016 finals.

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You can watch the above matches on Facebook or YouTube.