Wales’ Euro 2016 stars have paved the way for success at youth level, says U17 boss

Wales feel the legacy left behind by Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and others at Euro 2016 has been an integral part of their qualification for the first major youth tournament in more than 40 years.

Later this month, Wales will join England, France and Germany in the final tournament of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Hungary.

It is the first time Wales have qualified for a youth championship since a team under Mark Hughes reached the European Under-18 Championship in 1981.

“You talk about legacy and you look at Euro 2016 (when Wales reached the semi-finals) and what players like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey did there,” Wales U17 coach Craig Knight said.

“These kids would have been eight, nine, 10 years old at the time they watched the tournament and that success would have resonated with them.

“It’s really real for those kids and the path is there to progress from a young age.

“It’s a real opportunity for these guys to perform on an international stage and that should motivate them and the players at home.”

Wales have topped two qualifying groups to reach Hungary, finishing above Croatia, Scotland and Sweden.

The squad includes Leeds defender Charlie Crew, Manchester United striker Gabriele Biancheri and Plymouth winger Freddie Issaka, who became the Pilgrims’ youngest player at the age of 15 in August 2021.

Qualifying has maintained the feel-good factor in Welsh soccer after the men’s team qualified for the 2022 World Cup, their first in 64 years, after reaching the last two Euros.

There has also been a lot of development in women’s football and Wales reached a World Cup play-off for the first time in their history last October.

Knight said: “You have to continue to aspire to be the best you can be, developing and evolving our environment.

“When we organized the elite round of European qualifiers, we were staying in the same hotel as the first team team, who were flying to Croatia and coming back for the Latvian game.

“The entire first team coaching staff attended the Scotland match and watched the training.

“Two of the guys participated in one of their workouts because they needed a couple of extra numbers.

“Alfie Tuck, scorer of the goal against Iceland, was stopped in the lobby by Aaron Ramsey, who congratulated him on his ‘great goal’.

“This is how close we are, shoulder to shoulder with the national team, and the boys feel it.”

Wales have been drawn against hosts Hungary, the Republic of Ireland and Poland this month.

The four semi-finalists will qualify for the 2023 FIFA U-17 World Cup later this year, along with the winners of a playoff between the two defeated quarter-finalists with the best record in the group stage.

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