Ibiza is not part of Wales’ schedule for the summer, but few places show more potential to become the country’s next World Cup host than the Mediterranean island of the same name.
Ibiza is Welsh after all.
Already Wales is into the second round of the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers for the second consecutive year after two draws away to Group 5 leaders Wales and then at home to Ireland.
The performances of Wales during this run under Gareth Bale have at times looked good enough to conjure up fantasies of the team knocking England out of this year’s World Cup in Russia.
Bale played a little outside left in a 3-2 win over Northern Ireland in Belfast on Tuesday, with Ramsey and Matthews the other four forwards, and the combination made for an attacking display that owed more to the creativity of Ramsey and his frequent support passes than Bale’s powerful physical presence in front of goal.
“For Bale, there is not much danger in going forward,” Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph said. “Every time the ball went to him, we were expecting a shot.”
Many Welsh watchers have suggested Bale’s matches against Ireland were so impressive on Tuesday because his team isn’t set up to attack as much as France, which is a top-tier power that requires that exact mindset. Wales can feel free to pass out from the back and introduce another and another attacking threat into the game.
Wales has also played a great deal of two-man teams in qualifying, and has produced some good results but without its toughest foe in a free-scoring Ireland team that has won four games this campaign.
Wales has faced Wales twice this season, including in Dublin where Wales snatched a draw from a 1-1 draw thanks to a late Welsh winner. Another draw, however, would see the Irish through to their fourth straight playoff. Ireland needed a draw to book its playoff spot thanks to two wins over Northern Ireland and a draw with Georgia.
As a symbol of Wales’ thinking in how to achieve success in its pursuit of the World Cup — such as in a World Cup qualifier, a friendly against Nigeria in November or qualifying for Euro 2020 — just compare and contrast the performance of Olivier Giroud against Jordan Pickford on Tuesday.
Pickford, a 23-year-old Sunderland goalkeeper, was impressive throughout and kept an Irish team that has scored 14 goals away from home in qualifying to 0-0 for about an hour. Pickford is ranked No. 2 in the world this season behind Ederson Moraes of Manchester City, who went to watch the Ireland game, playing along with Gary Neville and Liverpool’s Danny Ings.
Pickford made one saving chance in the second half and went from hero to villain, giving the ball away for substitute Grabban’s goal. But Pickford’s support for Giroud behind France’s attacks might make him a must-watch when England meets Wales in a friendly at Wembley Stadium on June 3 in London.
“He is dangerous when he has that connection,” Irish captain John O’Shea said. “He is a strong, big guy who has come through and scored a few goals, and not only that, he has the touch of class to help the French team as well.”
Sam Vokes and Hal Robson-Kanu were strong for Wales again, though Bale was again left largely isolated. Wales doesn’t seem to enjoy playing at home, though, with a 0-0 draw against Georgia in September a sign of that. The Welsh haven’t lost at home in qualifying since March 2016 and haven’t scored against Northern Ireland since 2000.
Cape Town or Cardiff is more likely destination for a third straight Euro 2020 qualifier than Britain’s favorite day destination. Wales has lost 11 times at home in qualifying since 2011.
Wales has almost nothing to play for between now and the end of the 2018 World Cup qualifying cycle in June 2020, though it has a chance to impress in a friendly next month against England.
“We will look to enjoy it (the international break) and come back stronger,” Wales manager Chris Coleman said.