Ranked in the bottom pot for World Cup qualifying, my beloved Wales have fallen from grace to some degree. Is it really that bleak for us?
First of all, I'd like to say this is my first article for this site, and this new challenge is quite exciting! So please, be critical but a bit understanding.
Anyway, let's get down to business. It's been on the cards for a while, but Wales are officially among the worst teams in Europe. Even so, I still find this quite staggering. But it really is a sad sight to see us ranked alongside San Marino, Andorra et al - a very bitter pill to swallow.
It is a far cry from where we were around 9 or 10 years ago. The glory days of Mark Hughes well and truly in the history books, and probably won't be seen for a long time yet. At the time, it looked like we had the potential to kick on and finally dislodge rugby as our national sport. But in hindsight it was nothing more than a false dawn.
Euro 2004 qualifying began with an impressive 2-0 win against Finland in Helsinki, and then that memorable evening in October 2002 - Wales 2 Italy 1. What a night to be a Welshman. Unfortunately I was only 12 at the time, so I couldn't celebrate with a cheeky pint of Brains on St Mary's Street in Cardiff! We started our group with 4 wins out of 4, a record which big nations such as England would have been delighted with.
Poor form set in, culminating in a heartbreaking defeat to Russia in a play off (I'll admit, I did cry!), and Wales never really got over that. A wave of retirements followed, Sparky was off to Blackburn, and a raft of youngsters were introduced by John Toshack - many of whom were far from good enough to replace Speed, Hartson, Giggs etc. Even the much-maligned-on-Twitter Robbie Savage!
This is the time where Wales' descent into freefall began, with disappointing home defeats to the likes of Austria and Finland, and struggles away to the likes of San Marino. Players seemed disinterested, unmovitated, and unconvinced by John Toshack - the last one can certainly be labelled at Robbie Savage.
Players kept picking up injuries, but usually not too serious that they had to miss their next club game. Injuries, and players seemingly picking and choosing their matches, meant inconsistency, and meant that John Toshack never really got the chance to work with his best starting eleven.
For years, ever since that play off defeat, we have been told that Wales are 'building for the future'. Sounds almost like Arsenal. Although our football has been miles short of Arsenal's quality. The aforementioned raft of youngsters flattered to deceive, but it did still provide stars such as Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Wayne Hennessey. These are proven Premiership players, and deserve far better than to be playing for a bottom-ranked nation.
This year has seen a new era begin for Welsh football. Gone are the days of Toshack's strict, and perhaps old-fashioned, methods, and now we have a young manager in Gary Speed, and hopefully some new ideas resulting in a team which is more technically gifted than before. Already there has been massive attention to detail in the sports science department and player fitness - as Raymon Verheijen never tires of tweeting about.
Bottom seeds we may be, but providing Gary gets lucky with player fitness he should have a half decent team to work with. He hasn't had great luck to start with, with Bale pulling out of the England match two days before kick off. But with Bale, Ramsey, Hennessey, James Collins, Ashley Williams and David Vaughan, there is plenty of Premiership talent at hand. And then there's Craig Bellamy, whether he's in Manchester and Cardiff.
Brazil 2014 is going to be beyond Wales. The only hope for us is to get a kind group (preferably Faroe Islands, Northern Ireland, Belarus, Slovenia and Greece), rack up a few wins and find a way up the rankings ready for Euro 2016 qualification. Our players would then be appraching their prime, maybe Wales would be in one of the middle pots, and with Euro 2016 expanding to 24 teams, who knows?
I know that the last paragraph was entirely hypothetical, but as Welshmen we all need to be optimistic (within reason), pray for a bit of luck and maybe our dreams can come true. When Wales are at full strength, we are surely better than everyone in pot 6, and most in pot 5, maybe even a few in pot 4. Time for the players how good they can actually be!