All of the managers are predicting that the teams are of such similar stature that no country will set itself apart. The prediction is of a tight, highly-competitive group in which five of the six nations will be joined in a tussle to reach World Cup 2014 in Brazil. There might be some wishful thinking in the analysis, since Croatia have the best recent qualifying record and Belgium look to have the most richly-talented squad, but it has become a common view in the run-up to the opening games.
Chris Coleman repeated it last weekend, before asserting that his Wales team had to rediscover their "rhythm" and "get some hunger back". He perpetually seems like a manager struggling to match his predecessor. There was early promise in the reign of Gary Speed, and the general consensus has been that he would have led Wales to a successful qualifying campaign. The tragedy of his suicide means that it is only the potential that is ever recalled, but the squad at least contains accomplished individuals.
Belgium are their opponents on Friday night, and that has come to seem a daunting challenge. The presence of Vincent Kompany, Merouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas, Jan Vertonghen and Moussa Dembele in the Barclays Premier League will always make their qualities more prominent to British supporters, but it also provides a measure of their worth. The clubs they represent – Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton – have title and European ambitions, and these players are among their key individuals.
Yet the instinct among the Welsh is not to cower. Whenever the prestige of the Belgian squad is mentioned, they point to their own equivalents. Gareth Bale, certainly, can be considered among Europe's leading players, although Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey fall short of that standard for now. Wales are relying on potential.
They have yet to score a goal under Coleman, who succeeded Speed last February, and worries have accumulated. John Hartson, the former Celtic and Wales striker, is part of the backroom staff and he has been tasked with improving the form and effectiveness of the strikers. That is not the kind of preparation to cause their opponents on Friday to be alarmed.
"Basically, most of Belgium's squad are playing in the Premier League now so it'll be a tough game," said Joe Ledley, the Celtic and Wales midfielder. "But we've got a good team as well, with excellent young players like Joe Allen, [Aaron] Ramsey and [Gareth] Bale. So we can't complain too much. It'll be a great, entertaining game. There's a lot of confidence in Wales right now, there's a feeling we can qualify. We haven't had good results recently but we've got a good manager and great players.
"A lot of people down south have high expectations for us now. This is as confident a Wales squad as I can remember going into a campaign. It's probably the most expectation in a good 20 years. We were unlucky under Mark Hughes but we've brought back good football to Wales and we've got a good side. It's going to be a difficult group, anyone could beat anyone on their day. I expect good performances from all of the sides, but it's so important to get off to a good start."
Ledley has not joined up with the squad because he is recovering from a groin injury. He cannot even travel to the Millennium Stadium for the game because he will be receiving treatment on Friday. Coleman will miss the player's poise and consistency, since it will be an occasion for composed minds. If forecasts about the competitiveness of the group turn out to be right, no side will want to begin with a setback.
However the competition is assessed, though, Belgium start off as the favourites to finish top. Craig Levein will begin with two home games, then next month takes his side to the Millennium Stadium, and if Scotland are to stay in touch with the possibility of qualifying, then at least seven points will be required from these opening three games.
"It looks like a tight group," Ledley said. "Belgium will be a really difficult game and they'll be one of the favourites to qualify. It's important that we get good results in the first two games and give ourselves a chance of qualifying. Hopefully I'll be back for the next round of games, which will obviously include the Scotland game. It's always a good game, Scotland v Wales, and both teams will be up for it. I want to be fit for that one.
"[Scotland] have a fantastic squad with a lot of Premier League players. It's going to be very difficult when we come up against them. It's the same for us. We've a lot of top players and it will be a good game, but Scotland have a chance of going through."
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