It will take something special for Wales to emulate their unexpected success story of five years ago in this summer’s UEFA European Championship.
The 2016 semi-finalists are 200/1 with some bookies to triumph at the delayed Euro 2020, with the oddsmakers also ranking them the least likely to progress from a group that contains Italy, Switzerland and Turkey.
But where there is Gareth Bale (€9.5m) there is hope and the Dragons were similarly unfancied in France at their last major tournament appearance, seeing off the likes of Russia, Slovakia and Belgium en route to a last-four meeting with eventual winners Portugal.
Bale is one of eight Premier League players who were named in caretaker manager Robert Page’s preliminary 28-man squad but the bulk of the names on the long-list ply their trade in the second tier of English football.
We continue our series of Euro 2020 articles by examining Wales in detail to see if any of their players can compete for a place in your Fantasy squads.
ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
Wales squeaked into second place in UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying Group E in their final game, seeing off Hungary at the Cardiff City Stadium to finish runners-up behind Croatia.
They won just four of their eight qualifying fixtures, with two of those victories coming against whipping boys Azerbaijan.
We shouldn’t be expecting lots of goals from Page’s troops this summer: they scored on just 10 occasions in their eight qualification matches, conceding only six at the other end.
WALES’ EURO 2020 QUALIFICATION RECORD
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
Since that win over Hungary, the Dragons’ propensity for being involved in low-scoring affairs has continued.
There have been 11 Nations League ties, World Cup qualifiers and international friendlies since progress to this summer’s tournament was sealed, and Wales have scored more than one goal in only one of them.
On the plus side, they kept clean sheets in eight of those 11 games – two of which arrived in matches against Mexico and the Czech Republic in March of this year:
WALES’ MATCHES IN 2020 AND 2021
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
Head coach Ryan Giggs favoured a 4-2-3-1 for much of Euro 2020 qualification but more recently has switched to a 3-4-3, a system that caretaker boss Page has stuck with since Giggs was relieved of his duties in November 2020.
Page made it abundantly clear in March that Giggs was still calling the shots:
It is still Ryan’s group, it’s still Ryan’s camp, it’s Ryan’s players. Ryan’s key principles when he first took over the job are no different and whether he is here or not, the lads will know [them] and we will reiterate that message.
We will give that continuity of the key principles and how we go about our jobs. He might not be here physically but the lads know exactly how we expect them to play regardless, with our key points and values.
The injury-proneness and unavailability of Aaron Ramsey (€8.5m) and David Brooks (€6.5m) perhaps partly explains why an extra midfielder was sacrificed upon the move to a 3-4-3.
The pair have both made the 28-man preliminary squad, however, so we’ll have to keep an eagle eye on the early-June friendlies against France and Albania to see how Page set his troops up and whether Ramsey/Brooks are in contention for a start.
- Most starts: Gareth Bale, Daniel James, Wayne Hennessey (8), Connor Roberts, Ben Davies, Joe Allen (7)
- Most goals: Kieffer Moore, Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey (2)
- Most assists: Gareth Bale, Daniel James (2)
- Goals scored: 10
- Goals conceded: 6
- Clean sheets: 3
THE KEY TARGETS
The talismanic Gareth Bale (€9.5m) is the main attraction but he is prohibitively priced in the official Euro 2020 Fantasy game, with only three midfielders more expensive than the Tottenham Hotspur loanee.
Daniel James (€6.5m) is likely to line up on the opposite flank to Bale in whatever system is employed and is available at more of an eye-catching price, some three million cheaper than the Madridista.
Mostly used on the left flank, where he poses more of a goal threat when cutting inside onto his favoured right foot, James has three attacking returns in as many appearances for Wales at the time of writing.
There’s the potential for an ‘out of position’ tag with Harry Wilson (€7.5m), meanwhile.
Kieffer Moore (€6.5m) was seemingly in pole position for the lone striker’s spot but Page has only used the forward from the start in one of the last five internationals, with Wilson instead getting the nod in three of the last four matches – and scoring in two of them.
Wilson will also have a share of set-piece duties if selected, along with James.
At the back, most of Wales’ defenders will be available at €4.5m, with Ben Davies (€5.5m) overpriced at a million more – and that will be even less appealing if he’s stationed at centre-half.
THE LONG SHOTS
Connor Roberts (€4.5m) is among the throng of Wales defenders available for less than five million and looks the strong favourite to start at right-back/wing-back, with Liverpool’s Neco Williams (€4.5m) recently used on the left.
Roberts is the pick of the bunch at the back for attacking threat: he had more shots and penalty box touches than any of his defensive colleagues in qualifying.
There’s a bit of uncertainty over who gets the nod between the posts, with Wayne Hennessey‘s (€5.0m) muscle injury at the back-end of 2020 opening the door for Danny Ward (€4.5m).
Ward was selected against Belgium and the Czech Republic in the spring (Hennessey was part of a second-string XI against Mexico) so if he retains the jersey, he’ll be one of the cheapest starting goalkeepers at the tournament.
Finally, Ramsey remains a long shot because of his fitness.
He has only featured in three of Wales’ last 21 international fixtures due to injury and illness, and true to form, even missed Juventus’ last Serie A match of the season because of fitness issues.
Two goals against Hungary in the decisive Euro 2020 qualifier was a reminder of what he can do but €8.5m seems excessive for the former Arsenal man.
FANTEAM PRICE CORNER
The FanTeam prices don’t differ too much at the back, with all of the Wales goalkeepers and defenders listed at €4.5m.
Ethan Ampadu (€4.5m) is classified as a defender despite playing mostly in central midfield for his country, so carries a possible ‘out of position’ tag – although he poses little goal threat.
Further forward is where it gets interesting.
Gareth Bale is available at a much more reasonable €6.0m, which will surely tempt a few buyers. Just for some context, Kevin De Bruyne is listed as the highest-priced midfielder at €12.5m.
Daniel James at €5.0m is also on the generous side.