After the final whistle following Wales’ 1-0 win over Cyprus last Thursday, attention immediately turned to Sunday’s Israel clash. Victory would have seen Chris Coleman’s men qualify for their first major tournament in 57 years, but their canny rivals put the Euro 2016 celebrations on hold.
Israel manager Eli Guttman said on the eve of the encounter that Israel would not leave Cardiff with Wales in a position to celebrate. Even some of the Israeli national press didn’t know how he was going to achieve that – particularly given that Coleman’s men had wiped the floor with them in their previous encounter; but Guttman was adamant that he was onto a winner.
A master plan?
News started sifting through on Sunday morning that Israel’s master plan was to park the bus. A 5-3-2. All-out defence. Critics are going to say that Wales play that 3-5-2 system, too, and they do, but not in the way their rivals played it.
It presented a new challenge for Coleman’s side. They actually played significantly better against Israel than they had done in Nicosia last week. All things considered, of course, given the short turnover of time between games, the travelling, the physicality of the Cyprus team and the heat of the place, Sunday’s display was a markedly improved performance.
They just couldn’t score. Why? Well, because the team they were playing didn’t come there to play for a win.
That’s fine. Sometimes teams do that. But now Wales are seeing what their new-found popularity on the world stage is going to get them. People know they can tear teams to shreds, and aren’t going to let them have the chance.
Time to worry?
The changing attitude of their opposition shouldn’t be any reason for concern for Wales; it should just be taken as a compliment by them that teams are now more aware, almost afraid of them.
If anything, playing against this sort of tactic is only going to enhance Wales. They have already proved they can beat a team that comes to play against them, no matter how good they are. Ask the Belgians.
Now they have to learn how to play a team that comes to defend: play faster and tougher, with more variation and vigour to secure victory.
Every climbing team has to go through this, and Wales are no different. What we need to bare in mind as well, in light of these two recent performances, is that they were accomplished without two of Wales’ most influential players – Joe Allen and Joe Ledley.
If qualification had not been a prospect in this international window, fans would be very happy with the week that Wales have had. However, because the anxiety that comes with waiting to qualify for a first major tournament in 57 years has been prolonged, a minority are very disappointed.
Still, qualification for Wales seems pretty certain. They need just one point from their remaining two group games to qualify.
A trip to Bosnia comes first, and will not be easy at all, but Wales’ success in this campaign has been built on what they’ve done away from home with wins in Andorra, Cyprus, Haifa and a draw in Brussels to show for their efforts.
The test of Bosnia in Zenica will be tough, but even so, a final game at home to Andorra should see Wales get what they need.
However, against Israel, Wales faced a different type of opponent, one all too aware of what Coleman’s side could do. They’re going to have to be prepared for facing a lot more teams like that in the future.
Follow Jamie at @J_T_93