The red dragons are taking wing for France
Published 06/07/2016 | 02:30
The Welsh might have been happy to show the EU the door, but Red Dragons fans are delighted to still be in the European Championship.
Busloads of supporters will be hitting the ferries en route to France this morning, and hundreds of Welsh fans living in Ireland will be joining them.
They will include Philip Roberts, who was there last Friday to see the nation's golden boys seal their historic semi-final spot with a 3-1 win over Belgium.
"We were in the fanzone and when Belgium scored, their fans spoke to us as if that was it," said the father of four, who moved to Ireland more than 20 years ago.
"They, like everyone else, dismissed us as a one-player team. That we'd nothing to offer aside from Gareth Bale . . . well, I think we've proved otherwise.
"When we equalised, the Belgium fans shrugged. When we went 2-1 up, they groaned. By the third goal, more than half of them had left. Not a word from them after the game."
Mr Roberts said Wales' impressive display against Belgium had shocked many commentators.
But he insisted that their previous form leading up to this evening's clash against Portugal had convinced many supporters that the team would be a force to be reckoned with this summer.
The 2016 European Championships is the first time Wales has made it to a major tournament since the 1958 World Cup.
Cardiff went into "absolute meltdown" when the side secured its semi-final showdown against Portugal, according to Welsh fan Nia Jones. Having just arrived back in Galway from Cardiff two days ago, the 26-year-old had hardly unpacked before she grabbed her suitcase to head to France: "The atmosphere was incredible in the fanzone in Cardiff. There were thousands of us packed into the city centre cheering the team on," she said.
She added: "I never thought we'd go this far. No one did. That's why I'm heading over to France.
"I don't have a ticket to the game, and I probably won't be able to find one, but Cardiff was so good I just wanted to experience the craic in France in case it all comes to an end tonight."
Many Welsh fans living in Dublin are due to head to the Woolshed on Parnell Street to enjoy the game. Among the dozens who'll be watching with bated breath will be Doug Roberts. "It's been the best feeling to see Wales rise up beyond the likes of San Marino," he said. "This could be our chance. Denmark did it in 1992, Greece in 2004. That's 12 and 12 [years between small teams winning the Euros]. Following that pattern, another small team is due again in 2016. If we make it to the final, nothing will stop me from heading to Cardiff."
He added: "Wales is just like a little Ireland, only with less craic - but with better football!"
The Welsh Rugby Union has joined forces with the Football Association of Wales to give 20,000 fans the chance to watch the biggest game in the nation's history for free on a series of 100ft screens at the Principality Stadium in the Welsh capital.