A night of what might have been
10 July 2016

A night of what might have been

Few finals are considered classics, and the meeting of France and Portugal in Paris on Sunday failed to buck that particular trend. An early injury to Cristiano Ronaldo and an infestation of moths proved to be the main talking points, and it wasn't until deep into injury time that Eder scored the deciding goal.

The former Swansea City striker ensuring at least one tenuous Welsh connection. Meanwhile, Wales can at least say they were knocked-out by the eventual champions. With host nation France favourites to win on home soil, a Portuguese victory wasn't in the script, and Ronaldo's tears of pain turned to tears of joy as he celebrated international success under the Parisian sky.

But, it could have been so different. It could have been Wales. It could have been Bale. The semi-final is the worst game to lose in any competition, and while Chris Coleman's side were welcomed back in Cardiff as heroes on Friday, there will always be a lingering 'what if' for all the positive memories that EURO 2016 now holds in Welsh football history.

The defeat to Portugal in the semi-final was probably deserved on the night, and Coleman succinctly summarised it as one game too many for his weary team.

Aaron Ramsey has been one of the stars of the tournament, while Ben Davies has played his defensive role with maturity, and both suspended players would have been a significant loss for any side. Their replacements performed to the best of their abilities against Portugal, and the team regrouped despite the enforced changes and again put their bodies on the line for the badge on their shirt. However, two quick second half goals from Ronaldo and Nani brought this particularly exciting chapter in Welsh football history to an end, but the journey continues.

Wales, as a collective group of players, management, staff and fans, went into the unknown upon their arrival in France. This was a major tournament, these were uncharted waters.

The first match against Slovakia promised so much. It was the most anticipated and important match since Jimmy Murphy's side faced Brazil back in 1958.

The Welsh fans arrived with a steely determination that this would not be another day of Welsh football disappointment, and sung the national anthem with an unparalleled passion that would physically and mentally lift Chris Coleman's side as they stepped onto the field in Bordeaux.

A late winner from cult-hero Hal Robson-Kanu created incredible scenes. The side held on for victory. It was the perfect birthday present for Coleman. The emotion of the occasion will never be forgotten by all those who were there to witness a special moment in history. Whatever else happens from here on in they said, we will always have Bordeaux. 


Over the course of the next few weeks, Toulouse, Paris and Lille would be added to the list of unforgettable places that will forever be a part of Welsh football folklore.

Further victories over Russia, Northern Ireland and Belgium saw Wales make front and back page headlines around the world.

Images of post-match family celebrations and the connection between players and fans projected the 'Together, Stronger' strapline into a new dimension, while Coleman's charm offensive in his media briefings endeared him and his side into the hearts of many neutrals.

Wales created some of the greatest moments of the tournament both on and off the field. The players rose to the occasion and heeded their managers advice to play without fear and to enjoy every moment of the experience. Relaxed, cool and calm, Wales took EURO 2016 in their stride, and it showed in their play.


But this success was not the result of luck, but of months of meticulous planning to exploit the weaknesses of their opponents, and primarily to get the best out of each individual in the side.

Man-for-man, Wales did not have the technically best group of individuals at the tournament, but produced performances that would define them as being one of the best teams.

The formation was specifically devised around the players available, the substitutions were pre-planned and calculated for each eventuality, and the players bought into everything that the management team asked of them.

With an incredible bond, every player left nothing behind in each game, and as the tackles became tired and passing more erratic with each game it was clear that Wales' determination to succeed had taken its toll. Coupled with the loss of the tournament's best midfielder and an enforced alteration to a previously unchanged defence, the challenge of taking on Portugal did indeed become one game too many for Coleman's band of brothers.


However, while the pain of a semi-final defeat has only been emphasised by watching France take on Portugal from a distance, in time this tournament will be looked back upon as nothing but a victory.

The celebrations that took place in Cardiff on Friday were not to commemorate a semi-final defeat, but were to recognise and reward the players that have proved that Wales can now compete on the biggest stage, and against the very best of the football world.

The Welsh football landscape is never likely to look quite the same again, and this team have set a mark for others to follow in the future.

But this is not the end, and the journey for this group continues into the World Cup qualifiers.

Expectations have been raised, but Coleman has an unshakeable belief in what this team can achieve during the course of the next campaign, and his shrewd approach to EURO 2016 shows that he is a man that should be listened to.