Are you watching, Ronaldo? Wonderful Wales produce perfect team display

Gareth Bale Wales
Chris Coleman's superb side came from a goal behind to beat Belgium and reach the last four in their debut tournament. Next up? Cristiano's Portugal


Wales are making history and they know it. After the players took a look at the pitch in Lille on Thursday, they lined up for a team photo with all of the staff. Twenty-four hours later, at the same venue, they have made it to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 with a 3-1 win over Belgium.

Together, stronger - that's the team's motto and it's appropriate. In the pre-match press conference, coach Chris Coleman spoke of how sticking with each other in the "dark days" had helped this squad to bond. Captain Ashley Williams told the press: "This is a band of brothers."

And the Welsh family are breaking new ground. Only once in the history of this footballing nation had they been in the quarter-finals of a major tournament - back at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden when John Charles et al were beaten by eventual champions Brazil and Pele.

"We were out in Portugal a few weeks ago and one of the players from the '58 team came up and had a chat, we were talking about the 1958 experience at the World Cup," Coleman told the media on Thursday. "When they arrived back in Swansea, they were asked where they had been, had they been on holiday? People didn't know about the World Cup."

But they know about this and now it's the fans on holiday - and before the match those supporters sang throughout the day: "Please don't take me home..." And their team duly obliged on the pitch with a quite brilliant performance after it looked like Belgium may run away with it in the early stages.

After some last-ditch defending denied Belgium an opener with three successive blocks in the box, Radja Nainggolan drove a stunning strike past Wayne Hennessey and into the top corner minutes later. Wales were behind and they were being outplayed.

But they soon recovered from that blow and, as Marc Wilmots' men sat back, the Welsh began to grow in confidence. Belgium, with two 21-year-olds in a makeshift back line, should have kept on attacking but instead allowed their rivals back in the game and after 31 minutes, Ashley Williams headed home from a corner. It was no more than they deserved.

Williams typified the Welsh spirit in the previous match against Northern Ireland, when he kept playing despite an arm injury that seriously restricted his movement. Contrast that with some of the pampered egos in modern football and it is a special story. This a real team.

Belgium started stronger in the second half, but this time there was no goal and Wales went ahead with some spectacular skill from Hal Robson-Kanu as the striker received the ball in the box, wrong-footed three defenders with a Johan Cruyff-esque turn and fired into the corner to give Wales the lead.

It may be the best goal of this tournament yet and it was scored by an out-of-contract player who was released by Reading at the end of last season and who has previously spent spells at Swindon and Southend.

That sums up how Wales are punching above their weight and substitute Sam Vokes headed home a third later on from a Chris Gunter cross. The latter was supposed to be out in Mexico now for his brother's wedding in Cancun - but he'll happily take this moment instead.

For Belgium it is under-achievement again and Wilmots should be getting more from a team ranked second in the Fifa rankings, but Wales are making history and this time they didn't even need the brilliance of Gareth Bale to win the match.

Bale has done much to get them here, however, and now meets his club colleague Cristiano Ronaldo in the last four, with one of the two teams still to advance to the final at Stade de France on July 10.

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And whether Wales make it to Saint-Denis or not, Coleman's men have dug deep with an exemplary effort from their collective to achieve something unprecedented for their nation on the football field. The manager said after the match: "Don't be afraid to have dreams. Four years ago I was as far away from this as you could imagine. I've had more failures than successes but I'm not afraid to fail. We deserve this."

Together, stronger.

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