Ryan Giggs successfully guided his Cymru side to EURO 2020 during the course of his first qualification campaign as manager. The tournament finals will need to wait until 2021, but the magnitude of this latest achievement should not be diluted by the enforced delay.
The COVID-19 crisis means that the story of EURO 2020 is still yet to be written, but with lockdown falling on the fourth anniversary of EURO 2016, the last few weeks and months have been largely spent reflecting on a defining chapter in Welsh football history.
We have enjoyed the repeats of all the EURO 2016 qualifiers on the FAW social media channels while the BBC later repeated every game from the tournament finals. We have heard from Chris Coleman as the manager who masterminded the success spoke candidly to Ian Gwyn Hughes over the course of two interviews covering every aspect of the qualifiers and those memorable matches in France.
Reaching the semi-finals of EURO 2016 set an unprecedented standard for the national team. Our greatest achievement, it eclipsed the quarter-final finish of the 1958 FIFA World Cup squad in Sweden. But while generations of players between those years experienced nothing but qualification heartbreak, this latest crop of talent has been inspired by a different level of expectancy.
Although Cymru failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Coleman brought his tenure to an close by introducing Ethan Ampadu, David Brooks, Daniel James and Ton Lockyer to the senior squad following their progress through the intermediate teams. The veterans of EURO 2016 remained key to Coleman's team, but his successor was keen to build a team in his own vision.
While Coleman had started planning for the future with the aforementioned quartet, Giggs promoted Tyler Roberts, Chris Mepham, Joe Morrell, Connor Roberts, Rabbi Matondo, Matthew Smith and Joe Rodon into his senior squad following his appointment in January 2018. Amongst others, these are the players that have provided stiff competition for a number of Coleman's trusted heroes from EURO 2016.
But while the core of Coleman's EURO 2016 squad had emerged through a difficult era of international football with no appearances at a major tournament to inspire them, it is a very different story for the players that ensured Giggs was able to emulate his achievement of qualifying for UEFA's biggest international competition.
These were the players who either travelled to France as fans or supported from home or at the various fan parks around the country during that unforgettable summer. Part of the intermediate system, the pathway for success was there for their taking, and seeing the success enjoyed by players that had followed that same journey offered a genuine belief that they too could reach that stage.
The faith that Giggs placed in the young players coming through the intermediate ranks was vindicated in the 2-0 victory over Hungary that sealed qualification for EURO 2020 last November. There had been difficult times during the campaign, but the manager and the squad maintained a confidence and belief in what they were doing, and were ultimately rewarded.
Coleman was reliant on players like Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen amongst other senior players, and Giggs is equally dependent on these pivotal figures within the squad he has developed since his appointment. Their experience of playing at the finals of a major tournament is a luxury that Coleman did not have to call upon, and one that Giggs will now benefit from.
But the legacy of what Coleman and his side did achieve at EURO 2016 has inspired the generation that emulated his achievement of qualification under Giggs. A high standard was set, and it is difficult for older fans and players to comprehend that such highs are the prominent memory for the current generation after so many previous years of hurt.
Reflecting on EURO 2016 during this lockdown period has brought back incredible memories for so many people. But the past is crucial in shaping the future, and Giggs will lead a squad of players educated and inspired by the images from France when our next EURO story finally takes place next summer.