FIFA World Cup 2022 preview: Wales
Before Wales kick off their World Cup campaign, Ceri Vaughan-Jones takes a look at what to expect from Rob Page’s’ side at their first World Cup since 1958.
Yma o hyd. Gwlad Gwlad. Y ddraig goch. The dragon on my chest. The spirit of ’58. France 2016. This is not just football. This is identity. This is pride. This is Cymru.
A viral post from talkSPORT in 2011 demonstrates how far Wales have come as a footballing nation. It noted that Wales were ‘ranked below the Faroe Islands in 112th place in the latest FIFA rankings,’ posing the question ‘is it time for Wales to admit they will never qualify for a major tournament and pool resources with England and Scotland?’
Fast-forward to November 2022 and manager Rob Page is deep in preparation ahead of the World Cup having qualified for three out of the last possible four possible major tournaments.
Some considered the success of the 2016 European Championships, reaching the Semi-finals, a fluke, noting that this would never be repeated again. The next step of qualifying for a World Cup still seemed quite a distance away, but finally the 64-year wait for a World Cup appearance is over.
This is a team driven by passion, team spirit, and the twelfth man, Y Wal Goch (The Red Wall). Expect to hear chants such as ‘Hen Wlad fy Nhadau’ (Land of my Fathers) and ‘Hymns and Arias’ sung across Wales and beyond over the next few weeks. Wales are far more than merely the players on the pitch.
This is a team driven by passion, team spirit, and twelfth man, Y Wal Goch (The Red Wall).
On paper, they should struggle in their group, drawn against England, USA, and Iran but the fans know better than anyone that football is not played on paper. Who knows, we could be on the verge of another famous Welsh miracle…
So how does the squad fare ahead of their campaign?
The fitness of key players is a concern. Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, and Joe Allen were all a crucial part of the team that reached the semi-final of the European Championships in 2016 and remain as influential as ever. However, they have all struggled with injuries recently and may lack match sharpness.
The squad is oozing with young, exciting talent and Premier League followers will be familiar with the likes of Dan James, Brennan Johnson, and Neco Williams, who should all feature regularly and form an important backbone for the campaign ahead.
However, I’d like to consider some wild card picks for the 26-man squad.
First on my list is ‘Super Trooper’ Ollie Cooper. He has gained this nickname from Swansea fans as a result of his impressive performances this season. Following a successful loan spell with Newport County last season in which he managed 10 assists, the 22-year-old has has returned to Swansea hitting the ground running. He has 3 goals and an assist in 14 appearances for the Swans and has been instrumental in the team’s recent good form. His most recent goal came in the 2-0 victory against local rivals Cardiff, cementing his name into Swansea folklore for years to come. He has never been a part of a Wales squad but he must undoubtedly be on Page’s mind.
Next is Rubin Colwill, a 20-year-old 6 foot 4 ½ inches tall winger who plays his football for Cardiff. Colwill has 7 Wales appearances and scored his first international goal in March 2022 in a 1-1 draw against the Czech Republic. Although he hasn’t enjoyed as much success this season in the Welsh Capital, he remains an exciting prospect at 20 years old, and it would be a surprise if he’s not on the plane.
The final player to discuss is Nathan Broadhead. The 24-year-old is currently playing for Wigan, on loan from Everton. The striker scored 13 goals in 27 games from all competitions last season, helping Sunderland get promoted to the Championship. He has found the back of the net 3 times this season for Wigan and has been included in Page’s squad before. He will be causing another big headache for the Wales manager in deciding his final team selection.
It is important to remember that reaching Qatar in itself is a massive accomplishment for Wales; despite this, fans will be hopeful of reaching the heights of the most recent European Championship run.
The hardest game should be the final of those in their group when they come up against England. If Wales are to earn something from this game there is no doubt the aerial and physical presence of Kieffer Moore will be instrumental. Rob Page may be inclined to name a slightly more defensive lineup against England with Moore as the target man making a nuisance of himself. However, England’s poor form entering the tournament may go in Wales’ favour.
The USA and Iran will pose very different challenges in which speed and intensity in attack may be more significant; it is crucial that they start on the front foot in these games to get some early points on the board . This will see the likes of Dan James, Brennan Johnson, and Gareth Bale getting more involved, with Connor Roberts and Neco Williams flying forward from the wing-back positions.
Whatever happens in Qatar, a first World Cup since 1958 is a fairy tale for the nation.
Whatever happens in Qatar, participating in their first World Cup since 1958 is a fairytale for the nation. The players have already inspired a generation of young fans through their performances in Europe and they now have the opportunity to show the entire world what they can do.
Er gwaethaf pawb a phopeth, ry’n ni yma o hyd. (Despite everyone and everything, we are still here.)
See you in Qatar.