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The 8 key moments in Wales’ remarkable FIFA world rankings rise

01 Oct | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
The 8 key moments in Wales’ remarkable FIFA world rankings rise

From languishing below Haiti to achieving their highest-ever position in a little over four years - we chronicle the Dragons' incredible ascent

Wales are eighth in the latest FIFA world rankings – their best-ever position which also happens to be above Italy, the Netherlands and, perhaps most enjoyably for some, England.

It is certainly a long way from August 2011, when they attained their lowest-ever standing of 117th after suffering a 2-1 home defeat to Australia.

That was below nations such as Guatemala, Guyana, Korea DPR and Haiti.

But the Dragons’ response has been phenomenal, particularly considering the distress caused by tragic events away from football.

And while the rankings have been widely mocked, they perfectly illustrate the progression of one of Europe’s most accomplished nations.

In recognition of the achievement, we reflected on the eight key moments in Wales’ impressive run.

1. Appointing Gary Speed as manager (December 2010)SpeedA permanent replacement for John Toshack, Speed took over a side that was bottom of their Euro 2012 qualifying group after losing three successive matches.

Speed had endured a mixed first job in management at Sheffield United and things didn’t improve immediately, but the man who made more than 500 Premier League appearances and received 85 international caps commanded instant respect and introduced a fresh impetus to the group of talented young players.

After Toshack’s underwhelming six years in charge, it was a crucial change.

2. Entering the world’s top 50 (November 2011)BellamyWales’ ascent into the top 10 has actually been helped by not playing in notoriously-experimental and unpredictable friendlies – they have not played one since losing to the Netherlands in June 2014 – but it was a non-competitive fixture that took them into the top 50 for the first time since Mark Hughes’ successful spell in charge.

Their emphatic 4-1 win over Norway – their fourth in fifth games following previous victories against the higher-ranked Montenegro, Switzerland and Bulgaria – featured Craig Bellamy’s last ever goal for his country and appeared to be the start of something special under the impressive Speed.

But, tragically, it wasn’t to be. The manager was found dead from hanging later that month. He was 42.

3. Appointing Chris Coleman as manager (January 2012)ColemanIn incredibly trying and unprecedented circumstances, the way Chris Coleman has conducted himself ever since replacing Speed – a close friend of his for more than 30 years – has been admirable.

While Coleman’s regard for the team his predecessor put in place is clear, he has also been unafraid to make it his own, particularly after enduring a predictably difficult start.

A team of young players could have been permanently affected by the tragedy, but it is because of Coleman that they are now on the verge of fulfilling their potential.

4. Making Ashley Williams captain (October 2012)WilliamsOne of Speed’s boldest decisions was making Aaron Ramsey Wales’ youngest captain at the age of 20 years 90 days – a decision retained by Coleman upon taking over.

But after failing to win his first four games and sensing the then-21-year-old was struggling with the pressure of leading a team still grieving from the passing of their former manager, Coleman made the bold decision of handing the armband to Ashley Williams.

The country’s recent success and the respective form of both players is proof he made the right choice – Williams has established himself as one of the game’s leading centre-halves, while Ramsey has never performed better for his country.

5. Back from the brink against Scotland (October 2012)BaleHaving tumbled in the rankings, Coleman faced the unwelcome prospect of becoming the first Wales manager to lose first his first five games (one of which was a humbling 6-1 defeat to Serbia).

That outcome appeared even likelier when trailing 1-0 at home to Scotland with 10 minutes of the 2014 World Cup qualifier remaining. But a Gareth Bale brace – the first from the penalty spot and then a powerful left-footed strike – turned the game.

Wales, of course, did not qualify for Brazil, but the result bought Coleman the one thing managers need but rarely receive: time.

6. Battling in Belgium (October 2014)HuddleDespite starting their Euro 2016 campaign with two victories and a draw, it was the battling point gained against Belgium that established the ever-improving side as serious contenders to qualify from Group B.

And while most of their recent success is, not incorrectly, attributed to the individual talent of Bale and Ramsey, the 90 minutes in Brussels also demonstrated the impressive organisation and collectiveness of Coleman’s side.

A positive result against the nation ranked fourth in the world at the time delivered them a healthy amount of ranking points, too.

7. Ousting Israel (March 2015)Bale and RamseyColeman described the fixture in Haifa as Wales’ most important since their Euro 2004 play-off against Russia 12 years earlier and his players responded with a display of immense quality and courage to win 3-0.

Ramsey opened the scoring with an intelligent header at the end of first-half before Bale sealed the win with a stunning free-kick and a stylish finish – thus confirming their best start to qualifying since the aforementioned Euros campaign.

It was an impressive match-winning performance from the world’s most expensive footballer, who had received fierce criticism following several slugglish performances at Real Madrid.

8. Beating Belgium in Cardiff (June 2015)Bale-RamseyThe brilliant 1-0 win against the second-ranked Belgium in front of an inspiring, sold-out Cardiff City Stadium crowd propelled Wales into the top 10 of FIFA’s rankings for the first time.

It was a display featuring a decisive Bale contribution, some steadfast defending and a will to win that underlined the club-like togetherness of the nation – a microcosm of the combined contribution of Speed and Coleman, essentially.

That triumph ensured they would be among the top seeds for 2018 World Cup qualifying and left them poised to progress for next year’s Euros, which will be their first major finals since 1958.

Having subsequently beaten Cyprus away and drawn against Israel at home, the Dragons are one point away from sealing their place.

It has been a remarkable rise.

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