Wales can qualify for Euro 2024 without retired Gareth Bale – Chris Mepham
Chris Mepham says Wales can qualify for Euro 2024 without the retired Gareth Bale.
Wales find themselves in transition after talisman Bale’s retirement from football and Chris Gunter, Joe Allen and Jonny Williams quitting the international scene.
Boss Rob Page ushers in a new era for Welsh football away to World Cup semi-finalists Croatia on Saturday, as the Dragons begin the process of trying to reach a third-successive European Championship.
Latvia – Tuesday’s opponents at the Cardiff City Stadium – Armenia and Turkey complete the Group D line-up, with the top two teams qualifying automatically for the finals in Germany.
“One hundred per cent (we can make the finals),” said Bournemouth defender Mepham.
“I genuinely mean that as well. I think we’ve got a really good group of players.
“It’s obviously a big loss not having someone of Gareth’s quality because, in any given moment, he can turn a game on its head.
“But we’ve got players like Brennan (Johnson) flying in the Premier League and he’s going to be massive for us going forward.
“It’s an opportunity for other players to step up, to embrace that challenge and I think we’ll be absolutely fine in this campaign.”
The loss of so much experience boasting 327 caps has created a leadership vacuum within the Wales squad.
Aaron Ramsey has taken over the armband but vice-captain Ben Davies is absent through injury, as is the 108-times capped goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey.
Mepham made his debut at the China Cup exactly five years ago and is now the sixth most-capped Welshman with 36 appearances in the party heading to Croatia.
“I think I’ve got good leadership qualities and I’m quite vocal on the pitch,” said Mepham.
“It’s not like anyone is saying to me, ‘you must be the one to be vocal now or you must be the one to lead’.
“But where I want to get to in my career, I think that could be massively beneficial. Trying to be vocal and helping guide young lads throughout.”
Wales return to action in Split after a poor World Cup campaign which saw them score only once – a Bale penalty – and finish bottom of their group.
Honest reflections, as well as the way forward, have featured during the squad’s first post-Qatar camp.
“We wanted to give a good account of ourselves at the World Cup but, for whatever reason, it didn’t quite work out that way,” said Mepham.
“We spoke the other day with the new lads now about our principles and the way we are.
“I think we just kind of went back to basics a little bit in terms of the team we want to be.
“That compact, well-organised team that Wales have been for so many years.
“Counter-attacking is probably a big strength of ours where we play bigger teams, sit in and try to be as dangerous as we can on the break.
“We’ve got a lot of pace on the counter-attack and defenders that can be compact and put bodies on the line. That’s probably the team we want to be.”