Wales – wow, wow, wow!
Ok, I have a confession to make. I had this match playing on my Samsung Mini phone because I was watching Wimbledon on my laptop (I have no TV). Blame whoever decided to schedule the Euros at the same time as Wimbledon. Mind you, with the amount of rain we have had this summer (huh, I know, what summer?), perhaps a more sensible idea might have been to cancel Wimbledon, leaving me free to watch the football.
So, the Wales match took second place which, in hindsight, was not necessarily the best decision. In my defence, I would like to think there was a bit of reverse psychology going on. If I didn’t bother too much, maybe Wales would stand a better chance. Yes, I know, sporting superstitions are stupidly irrational, but they can work – sometimes.
Initially, it seemed I had made the right choice as Belgium went ahead after just 13 minutes, with a powerful 25 yard strike from Radja Nainggolan (he of the silly, weirdly coloured, punky haircut – yes, I am aware that narrows it down to the entire Belgian team, who have all got very silly, weirdly coloured haircuts). Belgium had already created chances even before the goal, and although Neil Taylor had a shot superbly saved by Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois, Wales looked like they were going to be overwhelmed by Belgian brilliance.
But this Welsh side is all heart and pride. An Aaron Ramsey corner was headed in by captain Ashley Williams on 30 minutes and Wales were back in it. By now, it was becoming increasingly obvious even on my tiny phone, where the players looked like ant men swarming the leafy green pitch, that this was not going to be one of those typically boring, cautious, bordering on cowardly, knockout games where the players were so scared of losing they didn’t even bother to try – yes, Portugal and Croatia, I am talking about you. This was riveting, swaggering, end to end football.
In the second half, Belgium started to dominate and it seemed only a matter of time before they would score again and put the game beyond Wales. However, it is truism in sport that you must take your chances, but Belgium were wildly profligate (would you ever put your last quid on Lukaku to score, even with the goal gaping?), and boy, were they made to pay. A sublime moment of skill from Hal Robson-Kanu, picking the biggest stage of his life to trick the Belgian defenders with a perfectly executed Cruyff turn and drill a left footed shot past the keeper. Wales were ahead. The semis beckoned.
If the tennis had distracted me from the football, the football was now distracting me from the tennis, as a frantic, heart thumping end ensued. Could Wales hold on? Belgium threw the kitchen sink and the bathtub at Wales, fluffing another golden opportunity along the way (Fellaini, joining Lukaku as a culprit of the careless header), but the Welsh defence remained as secure as a Norman fort.
With Belgium committed but unable to break through, there was always the danger they would be vulnerable to the counter. A long pass down the right flank to Aaron Ramsey, a pin point cross into the box, and substitute Vokes rose like a salmon to guide an acutely angled header into the goal. Wales were on their way to the semi finals of the Euros! Cue delirious scenes in Lille via Cardiff and the Welsh valleys.
Yep, I had picked the wrong match to relegate to second place. Wales 1 Wimbledon 0.