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Low's new Germany comes at a price

John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin

Bale, Coleman and the other reasons why Wales are in the Euro 2016 semis

Wednesday's Euro 2016 semifinal will be the fourth in five tournaments for Portugal but there are several reasons why Wales have nothing to fear.

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Bale has been brilliant

While other Euro 2016 managers have struggled to get the best out of star men like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo, Chris Coleman has found a formula for Gareth Bale.

He hasn't quite been the free-flowing wizard of the dribble seen at his Tottenham and Real Madrid peak; the forceful defending allowed by somewhat lax refereeing in France has seen to that. Instead, Bale has made use of another side of his game: his supreme physique which, he says, has been achieved despite the fact that he doesn't like going to the gym.

As a lone striker he took a battering against Slovakia in Wales' opener, but being partnered since -- be it by Vokes or Robson-Kanu -- has allowed Bale a little more space. He scored from open play against Russia, having previously netted free kicks against Slovakia and England.

Beyond that, Bale is prepared to work just as hard as the more prosaic talents around him.

A band of brothers

Bale is a globally recognised face and a star for Real Madrid but, when on Wales duty, he is just one of the lads and among friends who have known him for a decade; the likes of Chris Gunter, Sam Vokes, Andy King, Joe Allen and Neil Taylor were contemporaries at youth level.

Meanwhile, Joe Ledley has become an internet sensation for his post-match dance routines but almost didn't make the squad after suffering a broken leg at Crystal Palace. However, manager Coleman has said repeatedly that he would have taken Ledley to France come what may, such is the importance of his personality to the squad's mentality.

This group is easy in its own company, with players adept at soaking up their colleagues' pressures while history is made.

Coleman the unlikely tactician

Prior to taking the national team job in 2012, indifferent spells in club management at Fulham, Real Sociedad (where he left following an incident involving a washing machine and a night club), Coventry and Larissa provided no silverware. Having succeeded the late Gary Speed, Coleman subsequently lost his first five matches and was the target of fans' criticism.

And yet, four years later and having led Wales to their first major tournament since 1958, Coleman has outwitted opposing coaches, aside from his team defending far too deep and inviting England on in an eventual 2-1 group-stage loss.

Playing five at the back and putting both Neil Taylor and Ben Davies into his team looked like an attempt to accommodate his best players, yet it has been hugely effective, especially in beating Russia 3-0 in Toulouse and then in pulling apart Marc Wilmots' admittedly loose plans for Belgium in a 3-1 quarterfinal win.

Wales have been underestimated

They were seen as Bale plus 10 others, but four teams have now paid the price of underestimating Wales, with Belgium's collapse being the most recent example. Beyond Bale and the excellent Aaron Ramsey, whose loss through suspension will be keenly felt on Wednesday, the rest have risen to the occasion.

Joe Allen has taken on a midfield responsibility rarely handed him by Liverpool, while James Chester, often a reserve at West Brom or played out of position at full-back, has been strong as part of a three-man central defensive line.

Robson-Kanu scored the goal of a lifetime in the quarterfinal with a Cruyff turn that fooled three Belgians and then Vokes scored an expertly guided header to make it 3-1. Euro 2016 has given such players the chance to show off their talents.

A mission of passion

Were Wales to have exited from the group stage, they would still have been history makers. Instead, they have grasped the nettle with passion and determination and, in reaching a semifinal, have matched England's best achievements of the last 50 years.

It has helped to have such fervent support behind them and the relationship between players and fans is strong. They are on this ride "together, stronger", to use the motto that, in an era of empty corporate cliches, works and embodies the collective message perfectly. Success has become a shared emotion.

At the squad's HQ at Dinard, Brittany, it has been all but open house and Bale, notoriously reticent in the past, has done five media appearances and marked himself out as very quotable.

"I think we've got a lot more passion and pride about us than them," he said about England's players ahead of the teams' meeting on 16. Wales may have lost that game but further events in France have proved him wholly correct on that assertion. 

John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.


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