There are a number of games that will forever define Chris Coleman’s successful tenure as Cymru manager.

From that first victory over Scotland in Cardiff to the unforgettable victories over Belgium, the former defender made history as he turned the fortunes of his country around both on and off the field. Setting a new standard as the most-successful manager in the history of the national team, what Coleman achieved becomes even more impressive as time passes by since that memorable summer of 2016 in France. However, the start of the story was very different, and offered little indication of the glory that was to follow.

This was a difficult time for Cymru. Just six months after the death of Gary Speed, it is difficult to understand how this personal tragedy affected this young and impressionable group of players. This was far more than a football matter, and returning to the international camp in May 2012 without the manager who was starting to shape a bright future after years of frustration and disappointment would test the emotions of even the most-hardened of human beings. Coleman was brought into a difficult situation, and his every decision would be judged against those made by Speed. It was only later that he would do things his own way, but even doing the right thing would naturally feel wrong as he continued to mourn his close friend.

An international friendly against Mexico at the MetLife Stadium in New York City would mark the official start of Coleman’s time as manager of the national team. There was no Gareth Bale, but Aaron Ramsey took up his familiar position in the centre of midfield, while Craig Bellamy provided the attacking outlet alongside Steve Morison and Hal Robson-Kanu. However, Aldo de Nigris would score twice for Mexico with a goal in each half as his side claimed a 2-0 victory. The result mattered little, and while Coleman would have wanted a bit more from his side in terms of the performance, the emotion of the occasion cannot be underestimated at such a raw time for those involved with the squad.

But Coleman’s ability to take on the challenge of adversity would serve him well as he shaped his team over the course of the next year. Qualification for EURO 2016 followed, and the momentum of results and performances would continue through to the tournament as Cymru peaked during the finals in France. The memory of Speed remained with Coleman and his players throughout the success that they enjoyed, but the raw emotions experienced during that initial New York camp were far removed from the celebrations that followed in the years to come.

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