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Wales hope new heroes can contribute to strong Euro 2020 campaign

Wales hope new heroes can contribute to strong Euro 2020 campaign
© Reuters
The Dragons, who reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016, go into this year's finals without manager Ryan Giggs.

Five years on from energising and thrilling an entire nation, Wales are back at the European Championship after the most turbulent of times.

Wales left an indelible mark on Euro 2016 in France, reaching the semi-finals under the charismatic Chris Coleman as Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and company lit up the competition.

Dubbed 'The Red Wall' by the players, fans were just happy to be at a major tournament after 58 years of hurt since Wales' only previous finals appearance at the 1958 World Cup.

The vocal support was over 30,000 strong and their bonhomie and good behaviour won them an 'outstanding contribution' award from UEFA.

After a global pandemic you do not have to look far to see how things have changed.

Wales have drawn the short straw in the cross-continent tournament, having to make the 3,000-mile trip to Azerbaijan to play Switzerland and Turkey in Baku before heading to Rome for their final Group A fixture against Italy.

Most of the bricks in 'The Red Wall' will be missing amid Covid's travel restrictions, while the glaring absentee from the party will be manager Ryan Giggs.

Having masterminded a qualifying campaign which saw Wales finish as runners-up to Croatia but crucially above Slovakia and Hungary amid joyous scenes in Cardiff at the end of 2019, Giggs has been on leave from his role since November.

The former Manchester United star has been charged with assaulting two women and controlling or coercive behaviour. He denies the charges.

In Giggs' place has come Robert Page, who had just taken over at Sky Bet League One club Northampton when Wales were enjoying themselves in France five years ago.

Page, a no-nonsense former defender and Wales captain, was on Giggs' backroom staff and has overseen three wins from his four competitive games, with Mikel Arteta's Arsenal assistant Albert Stuivenberg by his side.

Wales v Czech Republic – FIFA World Cup 2022 – European Qualifying – Group E – Cardiff City Stadium
Robert Page has been in charge of Wales since November (Nick Potts/PA)

Amid all the turmoil caused by the Giggs situation, as well as the recent departure of long-serving Football Association of Wales chief executive Jonathan Ford, Page has managed to maintain an even keel on the pitch.

Promotion to the top tier of the Nations League was secured with wins over the Republic of Ireland and Finland.

The only defeat came in a 2022 World Cup qualifier away to Belgium, the world's top ranked side, but Wales immediately bounced back by beating decent Czech Republic opponents.

While many new faces have joined the squad since 2016, the one constant feature has been the talismanic role played by Bale.

Ryan Giggs file photo
Wales manager Ryan Giggs remains on leave and will miss the European Championship this summer (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Ashley Williams may have skippered Wales in France, but Bale took on the role of leader with his assertion that "the dragon on my chest" was all he needed for motivation elevating him to new heights of nationwide popularity.

Bale has not added to his record 33-goal tally since October 2019, but his influence on a fresh-faced Wales squad and ability to produce match-winning moments remains undimmed.

The free-scoring way he finished his Tottenham loan spell from Real Madrid also suggests that he has hit peak form in time for the Euros.

Familiar names from France are set to join Bale at Euro 2020, among them Ramsey, Joe Allen, Ben Davies, Wayne Hennessey and Chris Gunter, the first Wales men's player to win 100 caps.

Wales v Slovakia – UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying – Group E – Cardiff City Stadium
Manchester United winger Daniel James is among the exciting group of Wales youngsters who have emerged (Darren Staples/PA)

Page hopes that the midfield pair of Allen and Ramsey – who were both named in the official Euro 2016 team – can shrug off injury concerns, especially the latter whose fitness issues at Juventus have restricted him to starting only three of Wales' last 23 games.

Alongside the old guard stands a new and talented wave of youngsters, most of whom were quickly promoted into the senior ranks by Giggs.

Ethan Ampadu, Harry Wilson and David Brooks were given their debuts by Coleman before blossoming under Giggs.

Neco Williams, Joe Rodon, Daniel James and Tyler Roberts have also emerged to provide energy and enthusiasm.

Wales – UEFA Euro 2016 – Wales Homecoming
Thousands of Wales fans lined the streets of Cardiff five years ago to welcome home the Euro 2016 semi-finalists (Paul Harding/PA)

The introduction of towering Cardiff striker Kieffer Moore, a late bloomer who did not make his international debut until the age of 27, provides Wales with an attacking focal point that had previously been missing.

Hal Robson-Kanu, the cult hero of Euro 2016 after his wonder goal in the 3-1 quarter-final win against Belgium, failed to make the squad despite finding some late-season form at West Brom.

But Wales will hope they can find new heroes to excite the nation again – even after all the obstacles that have stood in their way.

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Wales' Daniel James celebrates scoring their first goal against the Czech Republic in World Cup Qualifying on March 30, 2021
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Olympic medal table header
CountryGold medalSilver MedalBronze MedalT
United StatesUnited States25292276
Great BritainGreat Britain14181547
Today's Olympic highlights header

Wednesday's key events

· Team GB starlet Sky Brown - aged just 13 - takes part in the women's park event and has a realistic chance of picking up a medal too. Bombette Martin is Britain's other representative, while hosts Japan are among the favourites for gold (1am)

· Great Britain's women have more history in their sights heading into their semi-final against Netherlands - the team they beat in the 2016 gold medal match (2.30am)

· The men's 400m hurdles final on Tuesday will go down as one of the greatest Olympic races of all time, and the women will attempt to emulate that, with new world record holder Sydney McLaughlin of USA and Netherlands' Femke Bol the favourites for gold (3.30am)
· Nick Miller is Britain's representative in the men's hammer throw final (12.15pm)
· The men's 800m final could be a wide-open affair (1.05pm)
· A thrilling men's 200m final is in store as the likes of Andre de Grasse, Noah Lyles and 17-year-old sensation Erriyon Knighton bid to succeed Usain Bolt as Olympic champion (1.55pm)

· After a medal-laden day on the water on Tuesday, Great Britain will be looking for more success, starting with Luke Patience and Chris Grube in the men's 470-class medal race (6.33am)
· Team GB also have medal hopes in the women's event, with defending champion Hannah Mills looking to retain her crown alongside new teammate Eilidh McIntyre (7.33am)

· Already guaranteed at least a bronze, Great Britain's Frazer Clarke faces Uzbekistan's Bakhodir Jalolov in the men's super heavyweight with a place in the gold medal bout up for grabs (7.03am)
· Ben Whittaker is also guaranteed a medal, but will look to ensure that is either gold or silver as he takes on Cuba's Arlen Lopez in the light heavyweight final (7.35am)

· World records have been tumbling in the velodrome, and another could go in the men's team pursuit final as Italy - new world record holders themselves - face Denmark (10.06am)

· Three Brits have made into into the final of the men's jumping individual final, including fastest qualifier Ben Maher, who will bid to inherit compatriot Nick Skelton's Olympic crown (11am)

> Today's schedule in full
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