Euro 2016: Will past failures inspire Wales to glory at this summer's championships?

By Rob PhillipsBBC Wales football correspondent
Wales face Slovakia in their opening game of Euro 2016 on Saturday, 11 June

It's finally here. The tournament where, at last, Wales can shrug off the tag of "absent friends."

For more than half a century Welsh football fans have endured major tournament finals with pained disinterest.

Now it's their turn to wear the shirts and fly the flags. France is to witness the biggest sporting exodus of Welsh sporting fans beyond these shores.

Who knows how long the adventure will last? But, without a doubt, it will never be forgotten.

Failures will inspire

Chris Coleman is the man who led Wales to Euro 2016 and the significance of the achievement is immense.

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After all, Coleman as a Wales player was part of squads who had legendary names, but failed to make it to the ultimate stage.

Ian Rush, Kevin Ratcliffe, Neville Southall, Ryan Giggs - the names trip off the tongue. No wonder Coleman dismisses the need to draft in a motivational speaker to talk to his squad.

He simply mentions the great players of the past who have had to watch their club team-mates representing their countries at major finals on television, just like you and I.

Of course, we have had months to prepare for this - but actually nothing can. This is all new.

Preparation games are 'warm ups' not friendlies. This is a tournament, not a one-off. Wales are qualifiers, not practice toys for those looking to get themselves into the groove for a big summer.

Gareth Bale
The French town of Dinard have given the Wales team a warm welcome

For the fans it has been a long, long roller coaster ride.

The torment of all those qualification failures; the struggle for the opening 2-1 win in Andorra; the hope after the iconic qualifying victory over Belgium; the triumph in defeat on the night a place in France was sealed in the Bosnia venue of Zenica; the quest for tickets since - and now the journey and experience.

Throw in a broken leg for bearded cult hero Joe Ledley just weeks ahead of Euro 2016 and the fans have been through the whole gamut of emotions.

Coleman has often said his side deserve to be here. Now they have to prove that. For all the injury concerns and the setback of losing the one-and-only warm up game 3-0 in Sweden last weekend, the Wales boss appears confident.

As Wales tread new ground, the great unknown is how far they will go in this tournament? The opening clash with Slovakia, in Bordeaux appears critical in shaping their time at Euro 2016.

Golden boys

Wales v Brazil
Wales reached the quarter finals of the 1958 World Cup where they were beaten by Brazil

The game is 58 years to the day when Wales played their second match at their last finals appearance - the World Cup in Sweden.

On June 11, 1958, a team including John Charles and Cliff Jones drew 1-1 with Mexico. Ivor Allchurch scored one of the two goals which made him top Welsh scorer in Sweden.

After three successive draws, Ivor the Engine also scored against Hungary in the Group Three play off to earn Wales that famous quarter final when - without the great John Charles - they lost 1-0 to Pele and Brazil.

Allchurch, known as 'the Golden Boy', ended his international career with 23 goals.

Spin forward more than half a century, and the new Welsh Golden Boy Gareth Bale is already threatening that number.

The Real Madrid player's tally stands at 19 - seven of them coming in qualifying for Euro 2016.

Ian Rush1980-199673280.38
Trevor Ford1947-195738230.60
Ivor Allchurch1951-196668230.33
Dean Saunders1986-200175220.29
Gareth Bale2006-54190.35
Craig Bellamy1998-201378190.24

If Bale can get anywhere near to the legendary Allchurch's overall tally in the next few weeks, then the travelling Welsh army will be in France longer than many expect.

With Slovakia in Bordeaux, England in Lens and Russia in Toulouse, the Wales fans already have more travelling in the group stage than supporters of any other nation. They will happily accept more.

Coleman has often said the current squad are at the staging post in a journey, rather than at an end. He has signed a new contract to take Wales through to the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.

Success in this tournament and Coleman's men have an ideal launch pad for that campaign which starts in September.

But it has taken more than 50 years of frustration for Wales to get to Euro 2016 so the focus in on flourishing in France.

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