"We Aren't Afraid of Anyone" - Chris Coleman
REDHANDED: Has it sunk in yet?
CHRIS COLEMAN: It has been gradual. A big thing for me has been going to and from Brittany to see our team base. I have been going over to the hotel, looking around the stadiums, wandering around the dressing rooms. It has made it real. I understand the question because when you qualify, as we have done, you obviously know just what it is that we have achieved, given the history and everything, and you spar with those thoughts a bit. But there is that time beyond those rst moments when you start to think how real it is. The next stage will be getting there with all the boys and all the staff, shutting the doors behind us, and realising this is it now, here for business, Wales are in France.
Is there a risk that all the history and all the hype of qualifcation could add a debilitating level of pressure on the side?
The job of myself and my stage is to manage that. It is very important that we do.
How do you do that?
We need to accept that this is a unique situation. You cannot ignore that there has been a lot of history and anticipation behind qualifying, so I think we need to use that. I will be saying to my players, “You have waited long enough for this, so go and enjoy it”. But at the same time we cannot allow the occasion to get to us. It is like we all say in club football, whether it is a cup final or just a big game, “You play the game and not the occasion”. When we get to France, we will be playing 90 minutes, 11 against 11, same ball, same goals, same rules and same messages - go out and play a game of football. With us, we never talk about results, only performances, and we will be doing that again. If they can do that, and I am sure they will because we have excellent quality in this side, then we will be fine. Like I said, I want us to go and enjoy the experience of playing at Euro 2016.
We will come to England in a moment, but what can you tell us about Russia and Slovakia, the other two teams in Wales’ group?
They are good sides, very good sides. We have done a lot of homework and I look at those two countries in the same way that they probably look at us, which is that they are beatable. We aren’t afraid of anyone.
What do Russia offer?
They look fast and dangerous in attack and their defence is perhaps a bit more mature, more experienced. ey have made some changes with Fabio Capello (their former manager) leaving part way through the campaign but they are de nitely dangerous. They score goals but at the same time we have the offensive players to hurt them.
I’ve watched them a good amount and they are a strong counter-attacking team. They counter very aggressively and Marek Hamsik, from Napoli, is probably their standout player. He’s very dangerous. But again, like Russia, I think we can hurt them and that they are beatable. They will both view Wales in the same way.
All of which brings us to England, who you play after Slovakia and before Russia. Is that a good draw?
I think I said before that I didn’t want to draw England because it will be a circus with all the attention and publicity. Obviously, it is a great fixture for the fans but we have to be careful ourselves with the hype on that game. We are not just going to France to play England, we are going to compete. I can say now that it will matter nothing at all if we beat England but lose to Russia and Slovakia. Nothing at all. Our job is to get out of the group and in that context the England game is no more important than the other two. The same number of points are on offer. But I know there will be a lot of attention on that game because of what comes with England. That’s obviously not Roy Hodgson’s fault, it’s just that a lot of attention comes with them.
How do you assess their team?
Roy has blooded a lot of very good young players and they look very good. They do. They were excellent in qualifying but as we all know now, it does not matter what you do before the tournament, the only thing that matters is what happens next. For us, when we get to France, that means Slovakia is by far the most important game, because that is the first one we have.
Who are the England danger men?
They have plenty but I don’t want to go on too much into England.
What is your expectation? How far can Wales go?
This is tournament football so it’s obviously very hard to say. I think we can get out of the group because we have that quality but then we will see what happens.
I have always said that once you get out of the group, you don’t know who you are going to play and it is down to a series of 90-minute, one-off games. We aren’t going to France scared of anyone. It’s a tournament and strange things can and will happen.
First things first, you go to the Euros. But what then? With players like Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen. I’ve heard you say how important it is that this is not a one-off appearance at a major championship...
That is certainly the hope and expectation. I was always very reluctant at the start of the Euro qualifying to talk about this group as the “Golden Generation”, which is what the media were calling them. I didn’t want to do that until they had achieved something. Now they have. They have reached the Euros and so they are that golden generation of Welsh players. But what happens next is so important, on and off the field. We need to make sure we capitalise, that we make sure this is not a one-off. We need to set new challenges and it’s not easy. It’s a bit of a danger point – will we recreate the success each campaign and move on and upwards, qualifying regularly? Or will we be a small nation that occasionally qualifies? That is the challenge and it is about making sure we produce players and coaches from grass roots right up to the top. We are providing the role models and it is important that we keep making progress. Wales have the players and potential to feel excited right now.
Wales’ Euro 2016 Finals campaign begins on June 11 against Slovakia.
Good Luck Boys!