Jack Collison column: Wales can win Euro 2016
In his latest BBC column, midfielder Jack Collison says Wales Euro 2016 qualification is just the start. And he says there is a glimmer of hope that he can be part of the squad, as he rebuilds his career as a Peterborough player following injury. He also talks about:
- Whether Wales need another goalscorer to aid Gareth Bale
- What Wales need to do in their pre-tournament friendlies
- His thoughts on 'snake hips' Joe Ledley and his dance
This can't be a one-off. It's essential that this group of players do not stand still and rest on past achievements.
Let's not as a nation be happy with just qualifying for a major tournament, let's go to France and cause an upset. Let's go to France and win the whole thing.
Inspiration from Euro 2004
Greece did the impossible and won the tournament in 2004. It would be far less of a shock if Wales did the same next summer.
Like Greece, the key to Wales' success is being hard to beat. They seem to enjoy defending. They are no longer a soft touch at set-pieces. They enjoy putting their bodies on the line. The will to win seems to be strong than ever.
Greece conceded four goals in eight qualifiers to reach the finals, and after getting through the group stage in Portugal, they kept three clean sheets, scoring just three goals.
It's a formula Wales are well capable of replicating.
Ashley Williams has led that defensive unit superbly and the spine of the side looks strong. Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey are the key players in midfield to make the team tick and then Gareth Bale can obviously work his magic up front. The pace we've got in the team means we should always come up with goals.
We saw from the 1-0 win over Belgium at home, manager Chris Coleman has got the players well drilled and he is clever enough to implement a game plan against top-quality teams.
And Wales can certainly expect a tough group in France after being placed among the bottom teams for the group stage draw, which takes place in Paris in December.
But the experience gained over qualification will stand this team in good stead. They know they can beat anyone on their day and not many teams will fancy facing a buoyant Welsh side.
Do Wales need another goalscorer?
There was an obvious reliance on Gareth Bale during the qualifiers. Seven goals in Wales' total of 11 speaks for itself, but I don't feel we should be overly concerned.
I feel this season could be crucial for Sam Vokes. He was prolific in Burnley's promotion season from the Championship in 2013-14 before a serious knee injury ruled him out for nine months.
I know as well as anyone how difficult it can be to get back to your best after a long injury lay-off, but I'm sure Sam will be looking to use this season to recapture his scoring form.
He was a key part of the Wales team before his injury, and he can give Coleman a valuable different option in France.
Simon Church has been playing fantastically well for Milton Keynes, although the goals haven't quite come yet. Hopefully they can re-find their scoring form and head to France full of confidence.
Time to try new ideas
Knowing Coleman as well I do, I'm sure he is already miles ahead in his thought process and thinking of ways to make this team better.
His strategies and game plans throughout the qualifiers have been impressive, his attention to detail is second to none, and more importantly he has won the hearts and minds of the players.
He has put excitement back in to Welsh football, he has brought the fans flooding through the gates again and more than that, he has made the nation believe.
November's friendly with the Netherlands in Cardiff is a perfect opportunity to work on a few ideas - especially given the likely absence of Bale and Ramsey through injury.
Obviously the Dutch haven't been in great form recently and won't be in France, but they'll be eager to show they are still a class act.
Wales will need a good mix of opposition in other friendlies before going to France, obviously depending on who they draw in the groups stages.
But the key for Coleman is to get his hands on the players for as much time as possible. I know the staff do a great deal of work behind the scenes and they need time with the players to implement their ideas.
A tinge of sadness
On a personal level, it was an emotional rollercoaster throughout qualifying. I was proud watching many of my mates performing so well on the big stage - players I'd come through with at Under-21s level.
I watched the games intently, heading and kicking every ball from my seat, willing for a good result and enjoying the celebrations afterwards.
|Jack Collison's career|
|Wales caps: 16 (debut v Iceland in 2008)||After 14 months out with knee problems, returned to West Ham side in May 2011|
|Last Wales appearance was 2-1 loss to Macedonia in September 2013||Played in Wigan's FA Cup semi-final loss to Arsenal in April 2014, missing a penalty in the shootout|
|Made West Ham debut in 2008 after coming through youth ranks, and played 121 times for the club||Joined Ipswich in September 2014 for four months|
|Suffered first major knee injury in 2009, dislocating kneecap||Signed one-year deal with League One side Peterborough United in May 2015|
You could see it on the faces exactly what it meant to each and every Welshman; not just the players lucky enough to be on the pitch, but the entire squad, the staff and the nation as a whole.
Speaking to a few of the boys after the Andorra game, the celebrations continued long into the following morning - and rightly so.
The personal highlight for me has to be witnessing the 'Joe Ledley dance'. I'm someone who has been fortunate enough to see his snake hips on various dance floors before. I'm just glad he has finally decided to share his impressive moves with the rest of the world.
The excitement and joy were often mixed with a slight tinge of sadness and disappointment, though. From a very selfish perspective it has been frustrating at times watching on from the sidelines, knowing that in different circumstances I could have been part of the journey.
I'm not one to feel sorry for myself and I suppose deep down inside I am still someone who believes in miracles, I am someone who enjoys defying the odds.
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Although it's a long shot, I still wake up every day, pushing my body to the limits knowing there is a glimmer of hope that I could still make that plane to France.
I've played a few games for Peterborough this season without any problems and feel I'm getting stronger. It's hard after being out for so long and much of it is down to confidence.
Between now and May there is still plenty of football to be played. With a good run of games and some strong performances, you never know. It certainly won't be through lack of trying on my part.
I always found Coleman someone easy to talk to and he has supported me throughout my injury troubles and still does to this day. It's not often you get that in a manager, and these small details are what I believe make him so special.
Whatever the outcome on my personal journey, you can count on one thing, I will be supporting the boys with every ounce of my energy and cheering them all the way.
Bring on the Euros.
Jack Collison was talking to BBC Wales Sport's Dewi Hughes