There were many doubters but Coleman, Osian Roberts and their talented team proved them all wrong
National team manager Chris Coleman has revealed how a long discussion with our Technical Director Osian Roberts on a car journey from north to south Wales spawned the system that catapulted the first team to Euro 2016
Speaking at our National Coaches Conference, Coleman, who signed a new deal at the FAW yesterday, told how his new formation's first outing saw his talented team struggle to overcome minnows Andorra, but told why his stuck with his new 'Welsh Way' of playing.
The former Premier League defender hatched a plan to ditch the popular 4-3-3 in favour of three centre backs and worked tirelessly with the likes of James Collins, James Chester, Ashley Williams, Ben Davies and Chris Gunter to make it work.
He said: “Throughout the qualifying campaign they’ve learned to become comfortable in uncomfortable positions. By the time we’d beaten Belgium I knew they’d cracked it.”
Here’s the inside story, in the words of the Welsh manager, of how an idea sparked during a long journey home from north Wales evolved into the system that led our nation to a first tournament since 1958 and why Coleman stuck to it in the face of heavy criticism.
Before we kicked a ball Osian Roberts and I spoke in depth about a new system I wanted to switch to ahead of the Andorra game.
Like most other teams, we had played a 4-3-3 but I wanted to come away from that and get something different up our sleeves ahead of the Euro 2016 campaign.
Our biggest problem was being short on time. Trying to implement a new way of playing in a few days certainly wasn’t easy.
It took a lot of work from the coaches to convince the players how three central defenders, holding midfielders, wing backs and two number 10s could work because it was completely different from a 4-3-3.
Some say it’s very defensive but it can be attacking if both wing backs play high and wide and the striker and number 10s attack with pace.
Andorra 1-2 Wales
Chester Williams Davies
Gunter Ramsey Allen King Taylor
Without being disrespectful to Andorra they were a team who we expected to beat but this game didn’t pan out the way we wanted it to.
We were heavily criticised after the game but we knew this was the way we wanted to go through the campaign.
I spoke to our psychologist Ian Mitchell at the start of the campaign about creating a ‘Plan B’ but he told me Plan B was getting Plan A right.
He was correct. This campaign has shown you should believe in what you want to do, stick to it and see it through.
I saw this as a system that could be a stubborn and get results in places like Belgium, Bosnia and Israel.
To be honest we got away with it in Andorra and when we got back we spoke diligently about the plan for Bosnia.
Wales 0-0 Bosnia
Chester Williams Davies
Gunter King Taylor
Bale J Williams
After struggling against Bosnia’s diamond midfield in the past we decided to start with one ourselves and keep the three centre backs and wing backs.
The attacking plan was for Simon Church to sacrifice himself and stretch the centre halves to create space for Gareth Bale.
But once the game started their diamond midfield was giving us too many problems.
They were getting closer and closer to our goal so we decided to switch to a flat back five.
That is negative but with our history of poor starts to campaigns, I really didn’t want to lose that game.
We were going to be stubborn and try to create something from nothing. At full time we were happy to have four points out of the first six.
Wales 2-1 Cyprus
Taylor Chester A Williams Gunter
J Williams Bale Robson-Kanu
Even though we didn’t tell the players, we knew we needed three points from this game.
We switched back to a 4-3-3 because we thought we’d get more possession and, with all due respect, we were better than Cyprus.
After 35 minutes we were 2-0 up and it was working but they scored to make it 2-1.
We reverted back to two banks of four when they had the ball and when Andy King got sent off on 50 minutes it became a real test.
We kept the two centre backs and put two sitters in front of them and we dug in for win we needed, which was vital to take momentum to Belgium.
Belgium 0-0 Wales
Gunter Williams Chester Taylor
Robson-Kanu Ramsey Cotterill
Suddenly we had a real belief in the camp and we thought we could go to Belgium and win.
I knew they were a great team and would have a lot of the ball but we worked really hard on stopping them playing quick passes around our box.
To be honest this was one where it was more about rolling our sleeves up than formations or tactics but we started with a back four solely because we had success playing that way against them previously.
Our attacking plan was to get Gareth Bale as high up the pitch as possible to expose Jan Vertongen, expecting him to surge up the pitch as usual.
But Vertongen played with Gareth at Tottenham and paid him a huge compliment by staying back for the whole game because he knew the devastation Bale could cause.
But when we looked at the stats we found that Gareth only touched the ball 18 times that night, which is very low.
We had to admit that we didn’t get the best out of him. It was a great result but the plan didn’t really work for us.
Israel 0-3 Wales
Collins Williams Davies
Gunter Allen Ledley Taylor
For this game I really wanted three centre backs and Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale doubling up as number 10s.
If we could get those two in possession high up the pitch, we knew we could do damage.
It wasn’t easy because the players had never played that system before but Hal (Robson-Kanu) was instrumental in creating space for Bale and Ramsey.
We fancy those two against anybody, even if they’re being man marked.
We gave Israel a real shock because they thought we were going to defend for 90 minutes but we went for them from the start and dominated possession.
At this point I could see the players enjoying the formation because we were so expansive.
Wales 1-0 Belgium
Gunter Williams Chester
Richards Allen Ledley Taylor
Things had to change a bit for this game because Belgium are a different team but the system was really starting to take shape.
They were always going to dominate possession but after 20 minutes Aaron Ramsey complained he had too much ground to cover.
It wasn’t Aaron’s fault, he’s incredibly fit but the centre backs and full backs were staying too deep and that was causing him a real problem.
Jazz Richards started coming out of his comfort zone and putting pressure on their left back. You have to be quick and brave to do that but he was brilliant on the night.
We’ve got clips of him leaving Eden Hazard to go to Vertonghen at full back. It looked as though he was leaving Hazard on his own but the ball never got that far.
That night we executed the plan brilliantly.
Chris Coleman also handed out the caps to Wales's U16 players on Saturday
Cyprus 0-1 Wales
Gunter Williams Davies
Richards Edwards Allen Taylor
By now the players had grown into this way of playing and had mastered the system.
We know we can be vulnerable in wide areas and fast wingers can kills us but we have a plan for that.
Belgium’s wide players played high and wide and made it hard for our centre backs and forced them out of position but we coped and came away with a great win.
It was similar against Cyprus and once we’d won that we were looking really good.
We kept the same shape for the games against Israel home and Bosnia away, the only slight change we made was to flatten out to a 4-5-1 if we were getting killed out wide.
We always knew we had Andorra home last and the plan was to still be in contention going into that final game but thankfully, in the end, we didn’t need it.