As a former Wales player and manager, Mark Hughes was used to near misses when it came to qualifying for international tournaments.
The Stoke City boss came within one game of reaching the 1986 and 1994 World Cups and as manager almost took Wales to Euro 2004.
While acknowledging the contribution of stars like Gareth Bale, Ashley Williams and Aaron Ramsey, Hughes has been impressed by the team that carried Wales to Euro 2016 – a feat that, on Monday, is expected to bring manager Chris Coleman a two-year contract extension.
“Right from the start you could sense that there was something special happening and they got the job done at the key moments,” Hughes told BBC Radio Wales Sport.
“That was something my teams and the teams I was involved in [as a player] weren’t able to do.”
Hughes added: “With this group of players, they’ve been together a long time and you sense there could be at least one more tournament out of them after the European Championship.
“Gareth has the ability to change games and he’s done that on numerous occasions for Wales by being the difference in key games when you need your players to produce.”
Hughes’ near misses
Hughes scored in the final 1986 World Cup qualifier against Scotland in a highly-charged game which the Scots drew 1-1, ending Wales’ hopes of qualification.
Scotland boss Jock Stein collapsed just before full time in the game and subsequently died of a heart attack, something which Hughes reflects on.
“We knew that it was a serious situation that developed. The football itself and the game went into insignificance as it would do,” he added.
“We were disappointed because of the result but in the wider scheme of things there are more important things on the night.”
Wales’ 58-year wait to reach an international tournament made it a difficult task for Hughes to deal with in his time as a player and manager.
“We had to accept that the longer it went on, the more difficult it became. Because we’re a lower-seeded nation, invariably we were the fourth seed out of five,” he said.
“That meant that you always had to overcome about three outstanding teams that on paper were better resourced and had better talent available to them.”
A tough introduction to management
Hughes was appointed as Wales manager in 1999 as replacement for Bobby Gould, when he was still representing his country as a player, but needed the support of some of the older members of the squad at first.
“I had a lot of good will when I got the job because the lads had gone through a period where it was hard work to play for Wales,” he added.
“I had no experience in terms of managing a group and I needed a little bit of time and the support of the senior guys.”
The defeat by Russia in the second leg of the Euro 2004 qualifying play-offs affected Hughes, and he feels his inexperience was a contributory factor.
“I never watched that game back. It was just one of those games where looking back, you think would I have done that and should I have done this?
“At that stage I was still an inexperienced manager. I would love to have the same opportunity, in the same circumstances.
“I’ve managed for 300, 400 odd games and I think I’d make a better fist of it now.”
Towards the end of his reign as Wales manager, Hughes received criticism from former boss John Toshack, who was appointed as his replacement after he was sacked in 2004.
Toshack had previously managed Wales in one game in 1994.
“Truth be known, the criticism did annoy me,” admits Hughes.
“Looking back I think some of it was justified at the time. There were moments when we could have done things better but things sometimes go against you.
“Tosh felt it was a role that he might like. Possibly the fact we had 70,000 watching every game made it a bit more attractive than the first time he was manager.
“A lot of the senior guys came to the end of their international careers. Whether that was accelerated because of John’s appointment you’d have to ask the individuals. Some would have said it probably did.”
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