Talk of Wales and inevitably the conversation turns to Gareth Bale. With three goals in as many games at UEFA EURO 2016 for the Real Madrid forward, it would be easy to assume he carries this side alone. However, though Bale’s contribution cannot be underestimated, it was the performance of the team against Russia that proved there is more to Wales than Bale.
Playing an unorthodox 5-2-2-1 formation fine-tuned through qualifying, Wales look to have found the perfect system to maximise their talents. There is defensive cover in midfield as well as support and variation in attack; most importantly, it allows Bale and Aaron Ramsey to show off their creative qualities.
Critics will say there is a lack of width, but wing backs Chris Gunter and Neil Taylor play high when Wales have possession and are both energetic enough to revert back when Chris Coleman’s side do not have the ball; the pair each play two positions rolled into one. Bale may be the go-to outlet in attack, but Joe Allen is the central engine. The overall workrate of the team is the biggest star of all.
The nature of last week’s defeat by England was tough to take, but Coleman was critical of the way his side played in possession. He could not have asked for a better reaction than against Russia.
The players knew the magnitude of the occasion and all that was at stake, but they clearly heeded their manager’s demand that they enjoy it and produced one of the finest and most dominant performances in the country’s recent history. Bale is the talisman, yes, but Allen and Ramsey have both now claimed Man of the Match awards at this tournament.
Bale does not see himself as the star of the team – indeed he is the first to recognise that this is a collective unit above all else. Wales play with such incredible spirit, belief and confidence and are backed by a tactical system that suits them perfectly. They will not be taken lightly in the last 16.