Wales beat Hungary 2-0 in Cardiff on Tuesday night to seal their place at next summer’s European Championship.
Here the PA news agency looks at how boss Ryan Giggs managed to lead his nation to Euro 2020.
Ryan Giggs has basically had to learn on the job in his first management post. The former Manchester United star was one of the greatest players to represent Wales, but will always be unpopular with many supporters who recall his regular failure to turn out for international duty. Giggs made tactical and selection errors in the summer defeats in Croatia and Hungary, but the addition of Kieffer Moore took the attacking burden off talisman Gareth Bale and provided a clearer way of playing. Giggs deserves plaudits for backing youth and coping with hurtful injuries to Aaron Ramsey and David Brooks.
Bale remains Wales’ talisman at the age of 30. The Real Madrid star has has had to contend with injuries and constant scrutiny over his future with a planned summer move to China aborted at the last minute. But Bale has risen above all that, turning up at every opportunity and upsetting the Madrid media by insisting he is far more excited at the prospect of playing for Wales than Real. Bale was nowhere near fully fit during those summer losses. But he came up with vital contributions to get Wales back into contention, heading the late winner at home to Azerbaijan and producing a brilliant finish to secure a Cardiff draw with Croatia.
The supporting cast to Bale have stood up at crucial times. Wayne Hennessey was at fault for the Azerbaijan goal in Cardiff, but that was a rare error and the Crystal Palace goalkeeper has made several vital saves. Full-backs Connor Roberts and Ben Davies have been consistent alongside an ever-changing central defence. Joe Allen and Ethan Ampadu struck up an effective midfield partnership, breaking up the play to start swift transitions. Bale and Daniel James provided pace and goals and benefited from the introduction of Moore for the last four qualifiers, the 6ft 5ins Wigan striker providing a focal point with his ability to bring others into play.
Wales’ squad might have changed considerably under Giggs, but the experience drawn from their run to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 has counted significantly. Would they have been able to bounce back from those two summer defeats without learning the lessons of the past? When the pressure was really on in Slovakia and Azerbaijan to get positive results, Wales returned home with four points. How to deal with such situations was passed down by the likes of Bale, Davies and Hennessey to their younger colleagues.
Giggs has placed huge faith in his young players and phased out several members of the Euro 2016 guard. Swansea defender Roberts has replaced record caps holder Chris Gunter and offered greater energy at right-back. Chris Mepham, Tom Lockyer and Joe Rodon have all emerged in central defence, with James Chester injured and Ashley Williams nearing the end of the international road. Chelsea teenager Ampadu has added steel and crisp passing to the midfield. James and Harry Wilson have also had breakthrough campaigns, leaving Giggs spoilt for attacking choices.
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