Chris Coleman sees chance for Wales
6:14pm Sunday 23rd February 2014 in Wales rugby and football
Chris Coleman was handed a new contract for the very purpose of leading Wales to Euro 2016 and the manager believes that target looks realistic after a favourable qualifying draw.
There was dissent in some parts of the Red Dragons' support when the Football Association of Wales awarded Coleman his extended deal last November, after hopes of reaching this summer's World Cup were dashed by a mediocre campaign.
Wales finished beneath Belgium, Croatia, Serbia and Scotland, and above only Macedonia, as Coleman learned how tough international management can be.
But with the experience of a debut campaign behind him, Coleman believes he and Wales can improve on that performance as they attempt to reach the 24-team European finals in France in two years' time.
Again Wales have been drawn to face a Belgium side that Coleman would surely have rather avoided, while Bosnia-Herzegovina will be the top seeds in Group B.
Coleman accepts such teams present a major barrier for Wales finishing in the top two, but he is not ruling out that prospect while insisting third place is a most realistic target.
The leading third-placed side from the nine groups goes straight through to the finals, with the other eight going into play-offs to decide the final four qualifiers.
Israel, Cyprus and Andorra complete the group, and Coleman's initial reaction to the draw was to say he was "happy".
"We know what Belgium are capable of but .... positive," he said. "Tough games. But our biggest concerns will be ourselves and how many times we can field our strongest team, and the more times we can do that the better chance we will have of taking points against anybody.
"I think Israel will be looking at it the same as us probably.
"We've got a chance if we finish about Israel, we've got a great chance to maybe get that third spot. But that's not to say we're going into it thinking we've got to target third. We've got to try to win as many games as you can because you never know."
The expanded format of the competition, that grew from eight teams to 16 for Euro 96 and will now take in a further eight countries in France, means the door is wide open for teams such as Wales.
With £85million man Gareth Bale in their ranks, there seems no reason to doubt Coleman's assertion that Wales can take third place.
"Teams like ourselves - like Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland - it gives us a little more chance of maybe qualifying and reaching a major tournament," Coleman told Sky Sports News.
"The format that's been before is very difficult for us but with the extra teams, who knows? It's all up for grabs."
What worries the former Fulham manager is the programme of games under a new UEFA format that will see teams, when involved in back-to-back fixtures, play two matches in four days.
Coleman will want the likes of Real Madrid forward Bale available for every match, and he understands why clubs at all levels may be irked by the demands on their international players.
"If you're a club manager you look at that and you're not going to really like that," Coleman said.
"Obviously there's more demand on the players.
"We're very, very careful when the players come with us. We know they're not our players. We borrow them effectively, like all international managers do, and we've got to send them back as fit and able as we possibly can."
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