Wales boss Chris Coleman: 'They thought I was the bell-boy'

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Wales Sport
Chris Coleman
Chris Coleman is in his third qualifying campaign in charge of Wales
World Cup qualifier: Austria v Wales
Venue: Ernst Happel Stadium, Vienna Date: Thursday, 6 October Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Radio 5 live and the BBC Sport website and app.

Perceptions of Welsh football have changed after a summer of unprecedented success, and the transformation is embodied by manager Chris Coleman.

The 46-year-old led his country to a first major semi-final at Euro 2016, and he takes his team to Austria on Thursday as they aim to build on their historic campaign in France by qualifying for a second successive major tournament - another first.

The 2018 World Cup may seem a distant speck on the horizon at this point, but the game in Vienna is Wales' second stop on the road to Russia - and this is a campaign with a difference.

Whereas Wales have been lowly outsiders in previous campaigns, they started this one as Group D's top seeds and, as Euro 2016 semi-finalists, a scalp for their opponents.

Aaron Ramsey and Wales team-mates celebrate after win over Belgium
Aaron Ramsey and team-mates celebrate the 3-1 win over Belgium at Euro 2016

Wales' standing in world football has changed irrevocably and, as Coleman's recent visit to a coaching conference shows, so too has their manager's.

"It was nice that one or two of them recognised me this time. The last time I think they thought I was the bell-boy or something. They did not know who I was," he says.

"There was [France manager] Didier Deschamps, myself, [former Iceland and Sweden manager] Lars Largerback and [World Cup-winning former Spain coach] Vicente Del Bosque.

Chris Coleman reacts to manager sackings in Welsh football

"You know you are in good company, and it felt great to be on the stage with them speaking about our experiences.

"I was there two years previously listening to the four managers on the stage who had been to the semi-finals of the World Cup.

"You cannot help but wonder if you could be there one day, and it came true."

Guarding against complacency

Euro 2016 was the realisation of a long-held dream for Wales and Coleman, and it gave them a taste for the big occasion.

This is the most successful era in Welsh football history and Coleman's men must adapt to their elevated status.

Although second seeds Austria are at home and are relative major tournaments veterans compared to their opponents, manager Marcel Koller believes Wales are favourites to win the group.

"They will see it as a chance to send a message," says Coleman.

"Before, teams would have played us and thought they should take all three points. Now if teams get a draw, they will view it as a great point.

"We have to up our game - that goes for the players, for me and for my staff. This is different whether we like it or not.

"With success comes complacency if you let it happen. It is human nature. There is that urge to think about how well you have done. This is the test for us, to try and push on."

Wales' toughest match?

On paper, this is Wales' most difficult match of the campaign, the top seeds away from home against the second-highest ranked team in the group.

Having underachieved at Euro 2016, Austria will feel they have a point to prove.

Their qualifying record for the summer's tournament - nine wins, one draw, no defeats - reflected a significant talent pool which includes Bayern Munich's David Alaba and Stoke winger Marko Arnautovic.

However, their group exit in France suggested they have yet to properly harness the quality at their disposal.

Gareth Bale in action against Austria in 2013
Gareth Bale scored Wales' opening goal in a 2-1 friendly win over Austria in February 2013

"Tournament football is unlike anything else, the campaign can be great, but a finals is a different challenge," says Coleman.

"When everything is on the line you sink or swim and our boys answered the questions asked of them.

"We can handle those high-pressure situations. This will be another one where we will have to have the answers again.

"They will know about us. If they get three points off us they will have to go above and beyond if we are at our best. It will be interesting."

Sweet memories of Vienna

Wales' first win over Austria, in 1975, was significant as it saw them finish top of a qualifying group for the first - and still the only - time in their history, thanks to a goal by Wrexham's Arfon Griffiths.

Despite topping their group, however, Wales lost in a play-off to Yugoslavia and missed out on a place in the finals of the 1976 European Championship.

Their next match against Austria was a friendly in 1992, and it was memorable for Coleman.

Arfon Griffiths scores Wales' winner against Austria in 1975
Arfon Griffiths scores Wales' winner against Austria at Wrexham's Racecourse Ground in 1975

Then a 21-year-old centre-back playing for Crystal Palace, Coleman came on as a substitute to make his international debut and scored Wales' equaliser in a 1-1 draw.

Coleman smiles when he reminisces about that day in Vienna. "The atmosphere was fantastic and I hope it's the same tomorrow."

With more than 4,000 travelling Welsh fans expected at the Ernst Happel Stadion, Coleman's wish may well be granted.

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