By Gareth James
Wales feel the legacy left by Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and others at Euro 2016 has been integral to them qualifying for a first major youth tournament for over 40 years.
Later this month Wales will join the likes of England, France and Germany at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals in Hungary.
It is the first time Wales have qualified for a youth championship since a side featuring Mark Hughes reached the U18 European Championships in 1981.
“You talk about legacy and look at Euro 2016 (when Wales reached the semi-finals) and what players like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey did there,” said Wales U17 manager Craig Knight.
“These boys would have been eight, nine, 10 years of age at the time watching the tournament and that success would have resonated with them.
“It’s really real for those boys and the pathway is there to progress from a young age.
“It’s a real chance for these boys to perform on an international stage and that should motivate them and players at home.”
Alfie Tuck puts Wales ahead with a fierce volley. Pic: Owen Morgan.
Wales have topped two qualifying groups to reach Hungary, finishing above the likes of Croatia, Scotland and Sweden.
The squad includes Leeds defender Charlie Crew, Manchester United striker Gabriele Biancheri and Plymouth winger Freddie Issaka, who became the Pilgrims’ youngest ever player at the age of 15 in August 2021.
Qualification has maintained the feel-good factor in Welsh football after the men’s national team qualified for the 2022 World Cup, their first for 64 years, after reaching the last two European Championships.
There has also been huge development in the women’s game and Wales reached a World Cup play-off for the first time in their history last October.
Manchester United’s Gabriele Biancheri tussles with the Iceland defence. Pic: Owen Morgan.
Knight said: “You have to keep aspiring to be the best you can, developing and evolving our environment.
“When we hosted the elite round of European qualifying we were staying at the same hotel as the first-team squad, who were flying out to Croatia and coming back for the Latvia game.
“The whole first-team coaching staff attended the Scotland game and watched training.
“Two of the boys took part in one of their training sessions because they needed an extra couple of numbers.
“Alfie Tuck, who scored the goal against Iceland, was stopped in the foyer by Aaron Ramsey, who congratulated him on his ‘great strike’.
“That’s how close we are, side by side with the senior side, and the boys feel it.”
Wales have been drawn against hosts Hungary, the Republic of Ireland and Poland this month.
The four semi-finalists will qualify for the 2023 FIFA U17 World Cup later this year, along with the winners of a play-off between the two beaten quarter-finals with the best record in the group stage.
Wales Under-17s pictured before their clash with Iceland. Pic: Owen Morgan.