By David Williams
Life after Gareth Bale initially appeared bleak for Wales, but Rob Page’s men have the chance of a third consecutive appearance at the European Championship in their own hands after a remarkable turnaround in Euro 2024 qualifying.
Page’s job was reportedly in danger after a damaging 4-2 home defeat to Armenia was followed by a 2-0 loss away to Turkey in June.
However, a famous 2-1 win over World Cup semi-finalists Croatia in Cardiff last month has given Wales new hope they can make it to Germany next year and fuelled optimism for the future.
Wales still need two wins from their final two games in Group D, away to Armenia and home to already-qualified Turkey, to guarantee qualification.
Rob Page gives his two cents on VAR… 🗣
— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) November 16, 2023
But they do have the safety net of being virtually assured of a play-off place thanks to their ranking in the Nations League.
“We want to win both games to qualify as it’s in our own hands,” said Page.
“We didn’t like what we saw in June. We put things right in September (a 2-0 win in Latvia) and built on it in October, and then capped it off with one of the best performances that I’ve seen.
“But we’ve got to build on that as it will count for nothing if we don’t follow it up. We need to sustain those levels.”
A year ago, Page’s men were preparing for their first World Cup since 1958.
But the joy of reaching the finals in Qatar quickly evaporated. Bale’s late penalty rescued a 1-1 draw against the United States before painful defeats to Iran and England sent them packing.
Page faced a double challenge 12 months ago — ageing veterans lacked the legs to play three intense games in nine days while many of those in their prime were short on minutes at club level.
Aaron Ramsey’s current absence due to injury means Tottenham defender Ben Davies is the only outfield player in the squad left from the group that reached the Euro 2016 semi-finals.
That tournament in France was Wales’ first appearance at a major finals for 58 years and it gave them the taste for more.
Brennan Johnson is the man tasked with stepping into Bale’s shoes and the Tottenham forward is back after missing last month’s internationals with an injury.
We go again! 🏴
— BBC Wales 🏴 (@BBCWales) November 17, 2023
In his absence, Fulham winger Harry Wilson answered the call for new heroes, scoring two goals against a star-studded Croatia team.
Birmingham teenager Jordan James has been a revelation since stepping into the void left after Joe Allen’s retirement from international football.
And Leeds’ relegation to the Championship has helped Ethan Ampadu and Joe Rodon find regular first-team football alongside Daniel James, after the winger returned to his parent club from a loan spell at Fulham.
However, Page is still having to rely on a core of players making their living in the English second tier.
Davies, stand-in captain for Ramsey, is one of the few proven Premier League performers among the squad but even he has made just two league starts for Spurs this season.
“We’re standing up against the challenges and here we are with two games to go, still in the fight,” said Davies.
“We never stopped believing in this group. The mindset we’ve got is we can get a result against anyone. We’ve shown that.”
Read more about Harry Wilson
Read more about Jordan James