Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2016: Heroics in France up there with greatest feats in Welsh sporting history despite loss against Portugal

By Ian Herbert

The rewards belonged to Wales long before the evening started, in the form of all that is now to come. Some might have said that it was a gamble for their football association to have ploughed the £6.8m they secured by qualifying for these championships into being prepared for the games themselves, with a base camp in Britanny that would equip them to the utmost degree.

They would not die wondering how it might have been had they given it a really good go in France - that was the logic. And no, they will most certainly not.

The legacy for football from Bridgend to Berriew to Betws-y-coed hardly needs stating.

The new 3G pitches, the generation who will want to be the Bales, the Joe Ledleys, the Neil Taylors of their time.

But the past month has also delivered the Welsh nation to a new place and taught Europe that it is no adjunct to England, but somewhere capable of delivering qualities we have not seen in the swagger and strut of that bigger nation for years.

That is to say: modesty, endeavour, intelligence, individuality, self-expression and - the word that resonated around the Dinard base, day after day these past weeks - fun.

The team, which seemed to have found parity until the sport's pitifully fine margins destroyed it in the space of three desperate minutes, delivered the spirit of Pays de Galles to the continent and after the desperate insularity of the developments back at home, Britain needed that.

Of course, none of this will ease the sense of desperation which will in time give way to a realisation that this was the summer of all their lives.

It was a measure of how far Wales have come that going up against the world's eighth ranked team, veterans of seven tournament semi-finals, would have the Wales supporters wrapped in early angst.

There could be no relaxed euphoria about being here, involved at a stage of tournament football which would have been laughable if you'd put the notion to those who travelled to their faltering start to all this at Andorra, six hours away over the mountains, a little less than two years ago.

The absence of the suspended Aaron Ramsey created a large black hole in the heart of the team, just as they had known it would do. Wales were denied the creative fulcrum and intelligence required to break the Portuguese lines.

Bale did not dominate the knock-out games against Northern Ireland and the Belgians which had brought Wales this far but was more integral here.

The performance of James Collins, the central defender on whom Coleman had staked a lot by playing him in place of the suspended Ben Davies, was bearing out that everyone shared the esprit de corps.

Collins v Ronaldo didn't sound like a match-up made in heaven for those in Wales. It had, until Ronaldo span around the back of him and leapt like an eel to score.

The discussion of where all of this fits into the pantheon of Wales' great achievements is one for the weeks ahead, though there is an incredibly strong case to say that for the qualities which have accompanied it, it is peerless.

Individuals have certainly telegraphed to the world what Wales represents: Ian Woosnam winning the 1991 Masters. Joe Calzaghe becoming undisputed two-weight world boxing champion 16 years later. Lynn 'the Leap' Davies at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. The great Welsh rugby union sides, of course. They'll tell you the length and breadth of the valleys that the 1971 Five Nations Grand Slam was the greatest of all.

But all of those were leaders in their fields. None has defied expectation and defined the qualities of a team more than this group and telegraphed what the indefatigable and creative nation stands for.

'Men of Harlech' rang out as the seconds counted down. It was still sounding around the stadium and into the night, long after the final whistle.

Belfast Telegraph