Euro 2016 countdown begins for Wales and Chris Coleman

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Wales Sport at Cardiff City Stadium
Wales celebrate at full-time
Wales have reached their first major tournament in 57 years

If qualifying for Euro 2016 in front of 750 hardy Welsh fans in torrential Bosnian rain was an intimate ordination ceremony for a select few, Wales' campaign finale at home to Andorra was the moment the doors were thrown open for the ultimate party.

This was a celebration 57 years in the making, the chance for 33,000 success-deprived supporters to welcome home their heroes at a cacophonous Cardiff City Stadium.

Without an appearance at a major tournament since the 1958 World Cup, Wales had ended the barren spell three days earlier, losing 2-0 to Bosnia-Herzegovina but qualifying for Euro 2016 thanks to Cyprus' 2-1 win in Israel.

Now they had the opportunity to celebrate in front of a sell-out home crowd, and they did so with wild abandon.

Whether they were sliding along the turf towards their jubilant fans or joining Joe Ledley to recreate the dance moves in Bosnia which made the Crystal Palace midfielder a social media sensation, the players were enjoying themselves as much as the supporters.

And once the champagne had dried and the confetti cleared from the pitch, manager Chris Coleman and his players could reflect on the magnitude of their achievement and look forward to next year's tournament in France.

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Wales 2-0 Andorra
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All eyes on 12 December

As well as securing the elusive place at a major tournament, Wales' recent success has also seen them rise to an all-time Fifa world ranking high of eighth.

That will count for little in France, however, because seedings for the competition are based on Uefa's coefficient ratings, which are decided by criteria including domestic leagues and performances at previous major tournaments.

As a result, Wales will be among the bottom group of fourth seeds when the Euro 2016 draw is made on 12 December, which could see them in a difficult group.

"I'd rather avoid the home nations if I'm being honest," says Coleman. "It probably would dominate everything if we did. It's like a derby game, we'd be travelling to France to play a derby.

"We've had experience against all the home nations. It'd be nice to get someone different.

"I'm not sure how the other guys feel. We're there and whoever comes out we'll deal with it."

Wales v Andorra
Wales trailed away to Andorra in their first match of the qualifying campaign in September 2014

How far can Wales go?

Wales are entering the unknown - as Coleman says: "We're in territory we've never been."

Although some supporters can still recall the quarter-final defeat by Brazil at the 1958 World Cup, this will be Wales' first appearance at a European Championship.

Coleman described qualification as the "holy grail", though a run to the latter stages in France could give the team legendary status - and it is not beyond the realms of possibility.

In Gareth Bale, Wales have a genuinely world-class match-winner and, as the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Arjen Robben showed at the 2014 World Cup, it is often outstanding individuals who decide the outcome of international fixtures.

"If you don't score goals you don't win games and thankfully we've got a world-beater," says Coleman.

"That's huge - it's not just the goals, it's everything. It's his whole manner when he's wearing a Wales jersey. He absolutely loves it, thrives on it and he's always a part of the group, he puts the team first.

"All over the pitch we've excelled but he's the icing on the cake."

If there is a concern, it might be Wales' over-reliance on Bale.

The Real Madrid forward scored seven of their modest total of 11 goals in 10 qualifiers - but this is a side built on solid foundations, going 574 minutes without conceding a goal before they lost in Bosnia.

June's 1-0 win against Belgium demonstrated Wales' ability to frustrate and overcome illustrious opponents, and they may well need to delve into their giant-killing reserves next summer.

Wales v Andorra
Euro 2016 will take place in France between 10 June and 10 July

Building a dynasty

Preparations for Euro 2016 are already under way, with the Football Association of Wales identifying a base for next summer's tournament having visited France twice in recent months.

The next task will be to arrange friendly matches to be played on the dates reserved for the play-offs in November and prior to the competition starting in June.

Portugal and Poland have been mooted as potential opponents, the former a particularly attractive proposition as the fixture would pit Bale against fellow Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Home friendlies could be moved to the Millennium Stadium as Wales aim to capitalise on the high demand for tickets and the extra revenue an additional 40,000 fans could bring.

Beyond Euro 2016, Coleman hopes Wales can build on this success and make qualifying for major tournaments a regular occurrence.

"It's a great achievement but there's more to achieve," he says.

"It's not just about qualifying, it's how we repeat it and what structure can we put in place. It's about doing it again and again.

"It can't end here. It's not about going to France and having a nice time - we've got to go to compete and we're flying the flag for Wales."

Gareth Bale celebrates Wales second goal
Wales conceded just four goals in qualifying - only Romania, England and Spain let in fewer
Wales celebrate at full-time
Wales ended the 10-match campaign with 21 points, two behind group winners Belgium
Joe Ledley and Gareth Bale lead the celebrations as Wales qualify for Euro 2016
Gareth Bale ended the qualifying campaign with seven goals - the same number as England's Wayne Rooney, Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty and Scotland's Steven Fletcher

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