Defender aiming to reach unchartered territoryWales can qualify for the European Championships for the first time in the nation’s history with just a single point from their trip to Bosnia on Saturday – and Reading right-back Chris Gunter feels that the country’s near-misses of the past are a motivating factor to ensure they see the job through.
The Dragons have never qualified for a major tournament during Gunter’s lifetime – their only World Cup appearance came in Sweden in 1958, but since then it has been nothing but heartache. They were within in a whisker of qualification for the 1994 World Cup in USA, only to miss out to Romania in a final winner-takes-all group game. In 2003 a Welsh side featuring Ryan Giggs, Gary Speed and John Hartson lost out over two legs to Russia in a play-off to fall short of reaching Euro 2004.
But now Wales stand on the brink of history.
“I remember Romania and Russia; the closer we get over the years, the more these questions seem to come,” Gunter said in the press conference in Cardiff earlier this week, before the squad flew out to Zenica. “It has been a hard time. We aren’t the biggest nation, but we have probably underachieved.
“The near-misses are there as a reminder that in football even the most unlikely thing can happen until the job is done. Until we’ve qualified we have to concentrate as anything can happen.”
The Welsh are in pole position in Group B, a point ahead of second-placed Belgium. The Dragons will qualify with a point from either of their final two games – which includes the visit of Andorra in their last match on Tuesday – but Gunter is keen that the squad should not get ahead of themselves ahead of the Bosnia tie.
But the 26-year-old, who is joined in the international squad by Royals team mate Hal Robson-Kanu, is enjoying being part of a side that is on the brink of achieving what so many before have failed to, in qualifying for a major tournament.
“We’ve worked so hard for so long, it’d be a massive mistake to get complacent and think the job is done,” explained the Royals full-back. “If we start thinking we’ll be celebrating on Saturday night, we’ll be caught out. It’s a really tough game. We have done well because we’ve always prepared in the right way.
“It’s nice to be involved in the right sort of scenarios towards the end of the group. We played Belgium when they celebrated getting to the 2014 World Cup and we’ve put ourselves in that position now.”