AFTER two steps backwards in the summer and a sideways stumble last month, Wales have taken two steps forward over the past week and a place at Euro 2020 looks to be within their grasp.

After back-to-back defeats in Croatia and Hungary in June and an unconvincing home win over group minnows Azerbaijan in September, qualification for next year’s tournament seemed a tall order.

But the 1-1 draws in Slovakia last Thursday and at home to Croatia on Sunday, while hardly setting the world alight, have given Ryan Giggs’ team renewed hope that they will be involved next summer rather than watching the action on TV.

Qualification may technically be out of their hands now but, realistically, wins in Azerbaijan and at home to Hungary next month should be enough to seal second place in the group and a ticket to Euro 2020.

The only way that wouldn’t be the case is if Slovakia also manage to win their remaining games in Croatia and at home to Azerbaijan.

At the start of the campaign, Giggs would no doubt have settled for this situation.

And, frankly, if they can’t win in Azerbaijan and at home to Hungary then you’d have to question whether his side deserve a place at Euro 2020.

But if it does all go wrong, and Welsh fans know that is always a possibility, then there is also the back-up of the play-offs thanks to Wales’ results in last year’s Nations League campaign.

In truth, it’s pretty hard not to qualify. But historical context tells us that it would still be a big achievement if Wales were to join the party next year.

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Giggs is still a divisive figure for many Wales fans, for a number of reasons, but if he does become only the second man to guide this country to a major tournament in six decades then he deserves credit.

And, in terms of statistics, he’s made a better start than his predecessor Chris Coleman.

Giggs has now been in charge for 17 matches, winning seven, losing seven and drawing three.

His first 10 competitive matches have seen him garner 14 points with four wins, four defeats and two draws.

That compares to five wins, nine defeats and three draws in Colemans’ first 17 matches as national boss, albeit under horrible circumstances following the death of former manager Gary Speed.

In his first 10 competitive matches, Coleman’s side earned just 10 points with three wins, six defeats and a draw.

And he went on to become a national hero during that never-to-be forgotten summer of 2016.

Can Giggs follow in Coleman’s footsteps, finish the job and guide Wales to similar glory in England four years on?

If the latter looks unlikely, the former remains a distinct possibility.

South Wales Argus:

The displays against Slovakia and Croatia were encouraging, especially when you consider that Wales were still without the services of key man Aaron Ramsey – who has missed the entire campaign so far.

“I think the two performances have been a big improvement,” said midfielder Joe Allen on Sunday night.

"You go back to the summer and they were two difficult away games but we were disappointed to come away with nothing.

“We gave ourselves a bit of a mountain to climb and we were in a difficult situation.

“But we've turned it around a little bit. There's plenty of work to be done of course, but we wanted to make sure that we're going into next month with every chance of qualifying.

“To come from a goal down against a top team like Croatia is a good result – and we're hoping it's going to play a big part in us qualifying.”

Allen will be suspended for the trip to Azerbaijan so Ramsey’s return would be a timely boost for what is now a genuine must-win game.

But defender Ben Davies insists Wales will be taking nothing for granted in Baku.

“There are no mugs in this group,” said the Tottenham Hotspur left-back. “They are a better side than people give them credit for. It will be a tough place to go.

“But we know exactly what we've got to do and that's win our last two games. Nothing more than that really.”

This campaign feels a lot like the last of Coleman’s reign when Wales continued to do just enough to stay in contention for a place at the 2018 World Cup, only to fall at the final hurdle against the Republic of Ireland.

Hopefully this story has a different ending and if it does, Giggs will deserve a little more respect and recognition.