Euro 2016: After waiting time, now it is decision time for Wales

Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey
Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey scored nine of Wales' 11 goals in Euro 2016 qualifying

After a 58-year absence from major tournaments, the Welsh wait is almost over. Euro 2016 is tantalisingly close.

Wales continued their preparations for this summer's competition in France with friendly matches against Northern Ireland and Ukraine, giving manager Chris Coleman a final opportunity to assess the options at his disposal before naming his squad.

Coleman will have to select his 23 players at least 10 days before Wales begin their campaign against Slovakia in Bordeaux on 11 June, and there is much for him to ponder.

No more experiments

Without several first-team players including the talismanic Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, Wales had to experiment against Northern Ireland and Ukraine.

Danny Ward, Lloyd Isgrove and Tom Bradshaw made their debuts, while the likes of Adam Matthews and Andrew Crofts returned from international absences as long as three years.

Fringe players such as Jonny Williams and Emyr Huws furthered their case for a place in the Euro 2016 squad - but now the experimentation is over.

Pele scores against Wales in 1958
The last time: Pele scores for Brazil against Wales in the quarter final of the 1958 World Cup

Wales visit Sweden for their final pre-tournament friendly on 5 June, by which time Coleman will have selected his 23-man party for France.

He said the match in Ukraine was not a "do or die" assessment for his charges, but it was his last chance to see them in international action before he selects his squad.

Coleman will now keep an eye on his players as they conclude their club seasons, with his fingers crossed they avoid injury.

Set-piece concerns

Wales' friendly matches were an examination of Coleman - his tactical flexibility, his squad rotation - as much as they were an assessment his players.

The former Fulham manager said the only disappointing aspect of the two games was Wales' concession of goals from set-pieces in both fixtures.

Coleman was concerned a "pattern" could emerge unless he and his players addressed this apparent deficiency, and he was frank in his self-assessment.

"First of all I must look at myself as a manager and a coach and look to adjust something in the preparation," he said in Kiev.

Northern Ireland celebrate scoring against Wales
Northern Ireland celebrate their goal scored after a set-piece against Wales

Another issue which Coleman may ponder as he whittles his squad down to a final 23 is Wales' shortcomings in attack.

They scored only 11 goals in 10 qualifying matches, with Bale contributing seven and Ramsey two.

A formidable defensive record of four goals conceded in 10 made that less of a concern but, without Bale and Ramsey, they did not pose much of a threat against Northern Ireland or Ukraine.

It could be that Coleman plays something of a wildcard and selects Walsall striker Tom Bradshaw in his squad.

The 23-year-old is a League One player who has just 18 minutes of international experience, but his 18 goals this season demonstrate the kind of potency which could make him a useful option in France.

England looming

Wales' opening match of the competition against Slovakia will be significant for several reasons - their first fixture at a major tournament since the 1958 World Cup and one which will have a major bearing on their hopes of reaching the second round.

Inevitably, however, the most hyped game is their meeting with England five days later.

It is natural a fixture so steeped in history and mutual enmity should prompt hyperbole and excitement, though it will pose footballing intrigue as well.

Harry Kane celebrates England's win against England
Tottenham's Harry Kane could be a danger for Wales in Euro 2016

With a core of young, dynamic players vying for the Premier League title with Tottenham and Leicester, England seem to be moulding a vibrant, adventurous team ahead of Euro 2016.

An eye-catching win in Germany suggests the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Jamie Vardy could pose Wales a different - yet equally imposing - challenge to bygone teams built around established internationals such as Wayne Rooney, who could yet force his way back into the reckoning.

As the group's top seeds, England will start the game as firm favourites.

But as Wales demonstrated against Belgium in their qualifying campaign, Coleman's side can rise to the biggest occasions and match the most illustrious of opponents.

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