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If Wales manage to qualify for the upcoming World Cup in Qatar, it will almost certainly be the pinnacle of a successful era for Welsh football. Reaching the World Cup would be a crowning glory for the international careers of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey. This article will explore who could take their places at the forefront of the national side. It will be hard to replace those two, but some players could take over their roles as leaders and focal points of the team.
Daniel James The winger was a promising player at Old Trafford, but the signing of Jadon Sancho made him surplus to requirements. His move to Leeds United has seen more mixed fortunes. He has managed a few positive performances in what has proven to be a challenging season for his new club, but with Premier League betting odds indicating they might get relegated, the long-term future of James might be up in the air again.
In terms of the national side, he has represented The Dragons at all levels and already has 31 caps. Some pundits believe that whilst James has a lot to improve on, he certainly has the potential to eventually replace Gareth Bale at the forefront of the Welsh attack. This season James has spent a number of games operating as a centre forward due to Patrick Bamford's injury issues, so with this experience, he could lead Wales' forward line in the future.
Ben Woodburn Ben Woodburn is still on the books at Liverpool but is currently on loan at Hearts. Whilst it remains unclear if his long-term future lies at Anfield, he is well respected by many within the Welsh setup. The midfielder was an unused substitute in Liverpool's 2019 Champions League final win over Tottenham, but he has yet to have a big impact for the Reds. His move to Hearts has been relatively successful, as he has played 28 times in a season that saw the newly promoted team reach the European places on Hearts' first season back in the Scottish top flight. He should add to his 11 caps over the next few months.
Ethan Ampadu Despite only being in his early 20s, Ampadu has already played over 30 times for the national side. It will be interesting to see how his future develops over the next few years. He has spent much of his Chelsea career on loan with temporary moves to Sheffield United and Venezia. Making 28 appearances in Serie A will prove to be an extremely positive experience for the 21-year old that can play as both a centre back and defensive midfielder. Should Ampadu have another season playing at a high level, he will become a key player in the Wales squad.
There are now great expectations across the country Of course, these young players will see that the Welsh media and general public now have higher expectations. Before Wales qualified for Euro 2016, they hadn't qualified for a major international tournament in 57 years. The rest is history. The Dragons reached the semi-finals and progressed further than many established international sides.
One of the great positives of this improvement in fortunes has been that it has brought the country together. The scenes that greeted the country performing minor miracles in 2016 were then replicated when Wales progressed out of the group stages again in 2021. The big question now is will Dan James, Ben Woodburn and Ethan Ampadu be the key ingredients of another successful era for Welsh football?