Euro 2016 Team Guide: Wales counting on Bale on return to the big time

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The British nation will end their 58 year absence from a major tournament in France this summer, where star man Gareth Bale will carry their hopes

Coach: Chris Coleman

Key player: Gareth Bale

Qualifying form: W6, L1, D3

Top scorers in qualifying: Gareth Bale (7), Aaron Ramsey (2)

Fifty-eight years have passed since Wales last graced a major tournament but, armed with the planet's most expensive player, they head to Euro 2016 intent on springing a surprise.

John Charles was Wales' star at the 1958 World Cup, when a 17-year-old Pele dumped them out in a 1-0 quarter-final defeat. A defender-turned-attacker, the 'Gentle Giant' had completed a record-breaking move to Juventus a year before heading to Sweden with the national team and his injury ahead of the Brazil fixture was considered a major factor in his team's elimination.

Wales' hopes this time around rest largely at the feet of Gareth Bale - himself a defender-turned-attacker whose transfer to Real Madrid in 2013 set a new world record.

Like Charles, Bale has made a success of his overseas switch, winning the Champions League twice in three seasons and firmly silencing his early doubters among the Santiago Bernabeu faithful.

While coach Chris Coleman would prefer to avoid claims that Wales are a one-man team, there is no disputing Bale's influence and contribution.

The former Tottenham man scored seven goals as Wales finished second to Belgium in qualifying Group B, netting in five of his country's six victories.

But to suggest Bale is single-handedly responsible for Wales' qualification would be simplistic.

Their spine of captain Ashley Williams, Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey and Bale is complemented by a supporting cast that features other Premier League stars, including Joe Allen and Ben Davies.

Optimism surrounding the current group of players started when Gary Speed took over from John Toshack as coach in 2010, but the Welsh legend's suicide the following year could easily have derailed the team he had worked so hard to build.

Coleman would be the first to admit he was not a universally popular choice to succeed Speed, but the former Fulham boss has won plenty of plaudits for his efforts in maintaining their momentum, creating a club-like atmosphere and utilising Bale to the best of his abilities.

For many Welsh fans, the main prize has already been won. After missing out on Euro 2004 in a play-off defeat to Russia, the national team went into decline under Toshack, failing to qualify for two World Cups and a European Championship, as well as playing in front of dwindling crowds, having previously filled the Millennium Stadium under Mark Hughes.

Anything from here is a bonus for Wales, who line up in Group B alongside neighbours England, Russia, and Slovakia, against whom they have not played since two qualifiers for the 2008 tournament, when both teams scored five goals at the other's home ground.

The clash with England on June 16 in Lens will serve as the centrepiece of both nations' group campaigns, but Wales will have greater ambitions as they bid to better the Class of '58.

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