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The Welsh National Football Team have made it to the semifinals of their first ever European Championships following their 3-1 defeat of no. 2 in the world, Belgium, in what many Welsh fans have deemed to be their “greatest ever victory”. After the match, manager Chris Coleman gave an inspired and motivational message to the world, don’t be afraid to have dreams:
Despite a 2-1 loss to England in their first match of the group stages, the team have since rebounded to remain undefeated through play that can only be described as passionate. After a 58 year absence from any major tournaments, players and fans, alike, have shown just how much competing in these Euros have meant for them. On the field, the players have stepped up. On defense, they have men contesting every opposing ball, double and triple teaming their mark with everyone making an effort to drop back and contribute to the defensive collective. In the attack, the team have played with purpose. While not always winning the possession battle, they have made the most of every possession and finished with poise and purpose that many teams wish they could have displayed this tournament. It has been the ultimate team display from all who have contributed.
Of course people will naturally point to the efforts of Gareth Bale stepping up in key moments to perform for his country, however, much of the credit can be found all around their squad. Aaron Ramsey has stepped up to be the creative heart within the midfield, setting up two of the three goals in the Belgium match. Their defender and captain Ashley Williams has been the soul of the Welsh defense, often popping up at precise moments to thwart an opposing attack and even scoring a goal, himself, against Belgium despite picking up a mid-game shoulder injury in which he was seen yelling at manager Coleman to leave him in the game when preparations were being made to sub him out. Even players not expecting to play at the start of the tournament have made the most of the opportunities being given to them. Most notably, that of Hal Robson-Kanu, who found himself out of favor following their 2-1 loss to England in their first match, but has since played himself back into the squad and provided a moment of genius against Belgium when he bamboozled the two defenders surrounding him with a graceful turn, allowing him to find space and neatly tuck his effort into the left corner of Thibaut Courtois’ goal.
As Wales have continue to defy odds in these European Championships, their fans and country have been right behind them. The Football Supporters’ Federation of Cymru has reported that they believe up to 100,000 Welsh fans have visited France to watch their team’s matches in Bordeaux, Lens, Toulouse, Paris and Lille. The reaction of the fans has been even more special after scenes showing their passion of reaching the semifinals have made their way around the internet.
Next up, the team have the daunting task of taking on Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, who have been thoroughly unconvincing in their lead up to their semifinal match, drawing all but one of their matches which was a 2-1 victory over Croatia. While the story lines will naturally be over the Ronaldo vs. Bale duel, collectively, both teams have the quality to take over the match. On one side of the ball, the Renato Sanches vs. Williams battle will be one to watch as the 18 year old has come into the Portugese squad and proven himself to be prolific since the start of the tournament. On the other side, it will be interesting to see how Wales attempt to dictate their attack without their leading assist man, Ramsey, leading the line since he will have to miss the match due to yellow card accumulation. As Wales look to continue their run in “dreamland,” it is probably safe to say that they will have a lot of support from neutral fans looking to see them continue their exciting underdog run this tournament in what has already been one of the the most successful sports campaigns in the country’s history.