Gareth Bale the big hope for Wales

June 9, 2016 11:37 am Wales-celebrate-qualification-for-2016

Wales are in a major tournament for the first time since 1958, and they’ve been rewarded for their stunning efforts in qualifying with a fixture against old rivals England.

The Dragons, currently ranked 26th in the world after peaking at number eight in October last year, will face Wayne Rooney and co in Lens on 16th June and, if they can pick up a point or more against their next-door neighbour, few would bet against Wales advancing into the knockout rounds.

Boss Chris Coleman has spoken of Wales’ incredible team spirit in the past, and, with 17 of the 23-man squad having been members of the national squad for five years or more, this is a group of players used to playing with each other – failure to at least get out of Group B would be a massive disappointment.

Who’s in the squad?

The star name is without a doubt Gareth Bale, scorer of seven of Wales’ 11 goals in qualifying. The Real Madrid forward, available for £8.1m on Fantasy iTeam , is the most expensive footballer in history, and is capable of changing a game in an instant. His brace to help Wales recover from an embarrassing position against minnows Andorra kick-started the Dragons’ fantastic campaign.

If anything happens to Bale, Wales will struggle for goals, but this is still a solid side containing plenty of Premier League pedigree. Captain Ashley Williams has been a mainstay for club and country for years now, and at £5.8m could be an inexpensive but reliable source of clean sheets, while Arsenal playmaker Aaron Ramsey (£6.7m) has had a mixed season, but has already scored 10 goals for his country.

James Collins had what he calls ‘his best season ever’ at centre-back for West Ham, scoring 46 points in our EPL game, while the hirsute Joe Ledley (£5.6m) has – remarkably – recovered from a broken leg suffered at the start of May to take his place in Coleman’s squad.

Finally, goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, who played every minute in the qualifiers, could be a bargain option at £5.4m for fantasy football managers looking to spend more money on their outfield players.

Who do they face?

The big game is, of course, the all-Home Nations clash with England, but Wales actually start their campaign against Slovakia, who are fancied by a few after beating world champions Germany 3-1 in a pre-tournament warm-up game.

Wales – who are 5/1 to emulate their 1958 forebears and reach a tournament quarter-final – will be looking to start as quickly as possible, to take the pressure off that crunch game in Lens but, if they do mess up, they can always recover in their last game, against Russia in Toulouse.

The Russians cruelly denied Wales a spot at Euro 2004, winning 1-0 over a two-legged play-off, and Bale, Ramsey and co will be eager for revenge.

What’s the best bet?

Bale enjoyed his best season at Real Madrid yet, scoring 19 goals in La Liga despite only featuring in 23 of the club’s games. Whether he’ll fire in France depends on his team’s progress, but you have to fancy a flutter on the Welsh wizard to take home the Golden Boot at odds of 50/1.

Did you know?

If you count reserve goalkeeper Owain Fôn, Wales’ squad boasts four players with the surname Williams. This number could have been more, but Coleman opted to leave Liverpool’s inexperienced Jordan Williams at home. Don’t accidentally pick the wrong man!

Confident in Wales’ ability to keep clean sheets? Backing Bale to bag the goals in France? Download the Fantasy iTeam and ensure you’ve got a Dragon in your ranks!

This post was written by Fantasy iTeam