For Wales, with Gareth Bale comes belief. Aaron Ramsey, the Arsenal midfielder, senses a real momentum shift in the progress of the national team, propelled by the unique talent that is Bale.
Chris Coleman’s side go into the European Championship double-header in Cardiff over the next five days against Bosnia & Herzegovina and Cyprus convinced they have their strongest chance of qualifying for a major tournament in decades.
Victory in an awkward Group B opener in Andorra, played on an astroturf surface of the school pitch variety, was earned via the sweet feet of Real Madrid’s £80m man.
Win your home games has always been the mantra, especially for lesser-resourced nations like Wales, and while Coleman’s squad has been hit by injuries, the inclusion of Bale gives them a turbo dimension capable of deciding any encounter.
“He’s a great player, and he’s the one that got us through in the end from the set play for his free-kick into the back of the net [against Andorra]. So we are just delighted to have him in our team and for him to be performing the way he is,” said Ramsey, who will be missing on Friday against Bosnia with a hamstring problem.
Since Bale, at 25, is two years older than Ramsey the pair did not coincide at schoolboy level and any chance of a local union was erased when Bale took up residence at Southampton’s academy. When they did come together, Ramsey quickly understood what all the fuss was about.
Arsenal's injury list
Arsenal's injury list
1/5 Mikel Arteta (midfield)
Like Diaby, the Spaniard is closing in on a return but the Swansea match will come to soon. The club captain last played in November.
2/5 Mathieu Debuchy (defender)
Returned in the FA Cup semi-final win over Reading but has since been ruled out with injury and Wenger confirmed he remains 'unavailable'.
3/5 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (midfield)
Suffered a hamstring injury against Manchester United in the FA Cup and hasn't played since as it has exacerbated a groin problem. Out at least until May and facing surgery in the summer.
4/5 Aaron Ramsey (midfield)
Aaron Ramsey caught a kick on his calf during the win over Hull and was later substituted. The Welshman was rated 50/50 for the Swansea match by Wenger, but it now appears that he is a major doubt for the clash at the Emirates.
5/5 Danny Welbeck (forward)
Danny Welbeck has not played since the goalless draw with Chelsea towards the end of April after suffering a knee injury. Wenger has confirmed that the injury is 'nothing major', and that he should return to full fitness before the end of the season.
“I only got a chance to play with him when I was 16 maybe, for the Under-21s I think it was, and he was a left-back then. He had great qualities going forward, always looking to overlap and he had a great final ball and delivery on him. I think in his early days he was on free-kicks and put a few of them in the back of the net. Obviously, he moved to Tottenham and the rest is history.
“You always knew he had the quality going forward and, yes, maybe he was questioned at times defensively. But being pushed up the field made sense to, I don’t know who the manager was at the time, who pushed him up the field and he never looked back from there. And now he has become one of the best players in the world and he has been so deadly in that position.”
The restructuring of the Euros to accommodate seemingly half the world has presented Wales with an unprecedented opportunity to progress to the pan-European finals in 2016. With two teams qualifying from each group, and a generous opportunity to progress via a third-place finish also on offer, Ramsey believes the next two games are central to Welsh ambition.
“It’s massive. This would be one of our best opportunities, probably ever, to qualify. It’s important now we have got off to a good start. It was an awful pitch over there [in Andorra] and very difficult to play football on, but we’ve gone there and got the result we were looking for.
“Teams are going to struggle going over there playing on that pitch. We’re just glad we went there and got the three points. Now we have the two home games, which we think are winnable. If we do achieve that then we’ve got nine points out of three games. That is a great position to kick on and qualify.”
Pride in the Welsh sporting setting is more associated with the oval-ball game. The success in the Premier League of Swansea and the emergence of Cardiff as a team capable of reaching the top tier demonstrates the potential of football in Wales to touch the nation’s heart as powerfully as rugby.
In that sense Ramsey believes Wales are playing not only for the present but the future, sending a message of hope to the next generation of Bales. “We want to really kick on this year and next year and qualify for them. We’ll have a great opportunity then of qualifying for future tournaments. All the young kids now looking up, it will just spur them on to become professional footballers and help Wales to become a great team who represents them in finals.”
Aaron Ramsey was supporting the PlayStation Schools’ Cup, which has increased tournaments for boys and girls across secondary school age categories, attracting close to 2,000 school entries. The grassroots programme helps nurture stars, while creating opportunities for children to represent their school. Visit www.playstationschoolscup.comReuse content