Reaching Brazil 2014 would be the perfect way to honour Gary Speed and the work he had begun in transforming young dragons into a global force

After living through the darkest day in Welsh football's history, the country's talented youngsters must now seize the opportunity to honour the memory of their former manager Gary Speed by finally qualifying for a major tournament for the first time in 56 years.

A hugely popular figure during his playing days, Speed was just beginning to make a name for himself in the managerial world when the devastating news reached a nation at the end of November that the former Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton and Sheffield United player was found hanged in his own garage at the Cheshire home he shared with his wife Louise and their two sons Tommy and Eddie.

In his professional career as a player, which still sees him placed at number three on the list of all time English Premier League appearances, behind fellow Welshman Ryan Giggs and ex-England goalkeeper David James, Speed endeared himself to both Welsh fans and those of the clubs he represented as a committed, passionate and supremely talented individual who was a fantastic leader of men.

His 85 caps for Wales, who haven't made the finals of a major competition since the famous team that were beaten 1-0 in the quarter-finals by a Pele-inspired Brazil at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, is a remarkable feat and makes him the second most capped Welshman of all time behind goalkeeper Neville Southall.

More recently, Speed was earning plaudits for his burgeoning career as a manger in charge of the national team.

Having endured a rocky opening to life in international management, including an underwhelming 3-0 defeat in the Home Nations tournament to hosts Ireland, followed by a convincing 2-0 defeat to old enemy England in a Euro 2012 qualifier at the Millenium Stadium, Speed had refreshed Wales' talented young squad and had overseen four victories in their final five games, including wins over Norway, Montenegro and Bulgaria, teams substantially higher than them in the FIFA world rankings, while their only defeat came in a 1-0 loss in the reverse qualifying fixture to England at Wembley - a match in which Wales more than matched their superior counterparts and could and perhaps should have at least taken a point.

Morale was boosted and confidence was high that, ahead of the qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup, Wales' talented young crop of stars, led by captain Aaron Ramsey and the mercurial Gareth Bale, could finally break their major tournament hoodoo.

As Football Association of Wales councillor Phil Woosnam said following Speed's death, not only did the Flintshire born favourite firmly believe that he could lead Wales to Brazil in three years' time, he also had a nation believing they could get there too.

It would have been Speed's legacy, despite being in such an early stage as a manager, but now, after his sad death, the young proteges, who will still feel numb until they pull on the red jersey for the first qulaifying game at home against Belgium next September, have the ideal opportunity to eulogise their fallen idol and leader by carrying a nation to the beautiful game's most prestigeous of tournaments, the World Cup.

Without wanting to appear insensitive to those closest to him, the death of Speed could not have come at a worse time for the Welsh national team - with the roll they've been on and the feel good factor which had been surrounding the team until the news of Speed's death was announced.

A famous footballing anecdote says that 'football is not a matter of life and death, it's much more important than that', but when a tragedy such as this befalls a nation and more importantly, a young family, it really does put things in perspective.

There are more important things than football, of course, but Wales and their players will eventually have to emerge from the current cocoon of sadness and confusion they find themselves in and get back to the business on the pitch, and there can be no better way to heal the country than by on the field.

Craig Bellamy will now be more vital to Wales' hopes of qualification than ever, but with him as the on-field general, his sheer drive and desire can guide the likes of Ramsey, Bale, Neil Taylor, Wayne Hennessey, Dave Edwards, Adam Matthews et el and fuse the team together.

They are a very talented team, with more and more of the squad now plying their trade in the Premiership.

Talented enough to get to the World Cup? Sure, after all the likes of Senegal, North Korea, Iraq and Costa Rica have all done it before.

But with a determination and resolve to achieve a feat our generation can't recall, bound tightly by the loss of their fallen master, Speed's pupils now have the opportunity to join the elite school of teams to reach the World Cup grade.

Although nothing will bring back Speed or ease the pain for his family and friends, if his bright young stars could use their own pain and suffering as a muse, if it could produce a steely determination in them and help them develop a belief that they can be a formiddable side to beat, and that was to result in a berth at a major tournament for the first time in over half a century, then that would be their greatest tribute to one of Wales' finest ever sporting heroes.