Chris Coleman hailed his Wales side after revealing they had to overcome a dirty tricks campaign from Israel to win in Haifa on Saturday.
Gareth Bale’s double and Aaron Ramsey’s header gave Wales a memorable 3-0 win and ensured they moved top of Euro 2016 qualifying Group B at the halfway stage.
While the on-field action was plain sailing as Wales extended their unbeaten run to five games, their longest sequence without a loss during a single campaign since 1976, off the field it was a different story.
“As a player I remember going to places and you know the shenanigans, the game-playing starts,” said Coleman. “We arrived there on Thursday and the journey from the airport is 45 minutes: it took us an hour and 55 minutes because our escort ‘missed the turn-off’. Then our bags arrived three or four hours later. So the games were starting to be played but we said, ‘Just laugh and joke about it’.
“I remember as a player we used to get angry about it and you walked on the pitch and you wanted to tear someone in half. Someone gets sent off, you’re 2-0 down after 20 minutes and it’s all over. Here, it was about keeping the players calm because we knew the atmosphere was going to be solid and we knew we’d have a load of fans there.
“So we just said, ‘Keep calm, we’ve worked hard to get here, let’s not do anything stupid, be brave with the ball’ – and we were all of that. I thought we could have won by more.”
Having had his contract extended, former Fulham manager Coleman has a wonderful opportunity to be the man who ends Wales’ 58-year wait to reach a major finals.
“It’s much nicer when someone is patting you on the back rather than kicking you up the backside,” he added.
Bale has lately had to endure fearsome flak at his club Real Madrid, which reached a head when fans attacked his car following defeat to Barcelona. But the 25-year-old said he had nothing to prove to anyone after his sensational free-kick and a sweet side-foot finish helped make a memorable night for Coleman’s team.
“I know, and everyone around me knows, what I can do,” Bale said. “There are ups and downs in football. You have to take [criticism] with a pinch of salt and all you can do is respond with your performances on the pitch. I don’t feel I need to prove anyone wrong or right, I just need to play my football.”
Fellow goalscorer Ramsey believes Wales can pull off a shock when they take on Belgium, the world’s fourth-ranked team, in Cardiff on 12 June, which would all but seal their place in the finals.
“We’ll be looking forward to Belgium,” said the Arsenal midfielder. “It’s a tough game but we are full of confidence at the moment. We are top of the group, so why can’t we [beat them]?”Reuse content