As Wales prepare for their Euro 2016 semi-final clash against Portugal, a game which manager Chris Coleman has dubbed as the country’s biggest game since 1958, Wales have surpassed all expectations. But the journey to reach this point should be remembered in equal measure alongside the occasion- the journey which when looked back upon, shows us just what the footballing nation has gone through and gives a concrete proof to just why they deserve to stand tall by their motto “together, stronger”.
Euro 2016 Recap
Wales started their Euro 2016 campaign with a 2-1 win over Slovakia followed by a 2-1 defeat in a high-octane clash against England. However they came back strong against Russia and clinched a 3-0 victory in their final group stage game. This has been the most glorious era in the history of Welsh football as they qualified for the European competition for the first time and also into the knock-out stage where they defeated Northern Ireland 1-0 in the last-16 encounter. Wales faced Belgium in the quarters and even after going down by 1 goal, they fought their way back as captain Ashley Williams, Robson-Kanu and Vokes scored to seal a 3-1 victory in the epic quarter-final. Wales will face Portugal in the semi-final clash of Euro 2016 on Wednesday.
Back To Where It All Began
Tracing back the roots of transition, the one individual whose name will be sung and remembered at the Lille Metropole stadium will be that of the late Gary Speed. After his sudden and tragic death, Coleman was put in charge; he felt it would be a kind of betrayal if things were not carried forward in Speed’s way. It was only after one of the most shattering outcomes on this extraordinary road to Lille, a 6-1 thumping to Serbia that Coleman finally decided to alter the system, while retaining the professionalism and team building that Speed had set in motion.
Overtime the combined efforts started picking up pace, with a kick start in the form of a 2-1 win in the euro qualifying match against Andorra thanks to a free-kick from the nation’s very own prodigy Gareth Bale. With that win, signs of belief and optimism started creeping in amongst the fans known as the “red army”, even more so due to the steadfast commitment of the club’s two genuine superstars Bale and Ramsey.
What followed were a series of positive results for the Welsh contingent, with the return game against Belgium in Cardiff being referred to as a “cup final” by Coleman. A 1-0 victory inspired and delivered by goalscorer Bale strung a cry of joy all across the stadium with fans proudly delivered an impromptu rendition of the national anthem after the final whistle. The atmosphere at the time made the renowned Sky Sports commentator Bill Leslie remark that “Something is happening in Welsh football”.
Since then, there has been no looking back. Wales have made progress after progress and “team unity” has been their focal point. After the 3-0 qualifying win against Israel, what followed was a combined performance of Elton John’s “Your Song” by Owain Williams, the then goalkeeper of League two side Tranmere Rovers along with the world’s most expensive player Gareth Bale. It is this attachment that the spearheads of the team in the form of Bale and Ramsey have developed, which has been a substantial part of the complete picture. The fact that everyone is treated with equal respect and dignity in the squad is one of the biggest reasons why it has been able to go on and achieve such success.
At the end, irrespective of the outcome in the semi- final clash, the present Wales squad has done the whole nation proud. Considering the enormity of Speed’s death, the triumphs thereafter have seemed impossible yet achievable. Such has been the nature of Welsh side’s incredible adventure.