Saturday 3 December 2016

Fans had key role in 'historic' success - Bale

Wales 2-1 Slovakia

Jeremy Wilson

Published 13/06/2016 | 02:30

Gareth Bale of Wales scores his team's first goal from a free kick during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group B match between Wales and Slovakia. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Gareth Bale of Wales scores his team's first goal from a free kick during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group B match between Wales and Slovakia. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

The local time in Bordeaux was 10.45pm and, with the engines being revved up on the private flight that would take the victorious Wales team back to their Dinard base, the mobile phones of several players flashed up with news that would complete a perfect day.

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Russia had equalised in the 92nd minute of their match against England, and Wales would remain clear at the top of Group B.

As the phone signals gradually faded with the lights of Bordeaux, the celebrations over the next hour took the form of the very songs about each other that had earlier boomed out around the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux. 'Gimme hope Joe Allen' was apparently the most popular.

"We watched the programme with the Wales chants on the TV a few nights ago and were enjoying ourselves on the plane back, all buzzing," said Jonny Williams. "The boys were shattered. We had a bit of food when we got back and then went to bed. Or tried to go to bed."

Wales had waited 58 years to be heard at a major international football and Aaron Ramsey admitted that the players "had to pinch ourselves to stop the tears coming down".

With Ben Davies producing an inspired goal-line clearance and then Gareth Bale putting the team ahead within 10 minutes, Wales duly delivered their most complete half of football since beating Belgium a year ago.

Slovakia's defender Martin Skrtel kicks the ball past Wales' forward Gareth Bale during the match between Wales and Slovakia. Photo: Joe Klamar/Getty Images
Slovakia's defender Martin Skrtel kicks the ball past Wales' forward Gareth Bale during the match between Wales and Slovakia. Photo: Joe Klamar/Getty Images

There was then a significant wobble following Ondrej Duda's equaliser but, just as a draw began to look like a positive result, the Wales fans increased their volume.

The national anthem again reverberated around the stadium, the team inched forward and, following an exchange of passes between Joe Ledley and Ramsey, space was created for Hal Robson-Kanu to scuff his winning goal past Matus Kozacik.

Bale was adamant that the supporters had directly influenced what happened on the pitch. "There are no other fans like the Welsh," he said.

"No other country would think of doing things like that to lift the team. We were under the cosh a bit towards the end but our fans were the 12th man and pulled us through.

Slovakia's defender Martin Skrtel vies for the ball with Wales' forward Hal Robson-Kanu during the Euro 2016 group B football match between Wales and Slovakia. Photo: Joe Klamar/Getty Images
Slovakia's defender Martin Skrtel vies for the ball with Wales' forward Hal Robson-Kanu during the Euro 2016 group B football match between Wales and Slovakia. Photo: Joe Klamar/Getty Images

"We have just worked hard as a team, run until we couldn't run any more. It was a memorable and historic moment for our country."

Ramsey described the occasion as "spine-tingling" but it was also a victory for the tactical planning of manager Chris Coleman.

Fluency

Using Williams and Ramsey in support of Bale as the lone striker gave Wales a solidity and fluency in central midfield that they had lacked since their qualification campaign.

Slovakia's midfielder Marek Hamsik kicks the ball during the Euro 2016 group B football match between Wales and Slovakia. Photo: Joe Klamar/Getty Images
Slovakia's midfielder Marek Hamsik kicks the ball during the Euro 2016 group B football match between Wales and Slovakia. Photo: Joe Klamar/Getty Images

That was only enhanced when Ledley came on in the second half to complete an extraordinary comeback after breaking his leg for Crystal Palace only one month ago.

Robson-Kanu's movement was also vital when he was introduced in the 71st minute and, having decided to leave Reading this summer, his performance was certainly a timely advert.

Amid a career that has contained many highs and lows, not least when he left Arsenal at the age of 15 back in 2004, it was also a huge moment to savour.

"I was one of the smallest in the whole academy when I was at Arsenal," said Robson-Kanu. "I developed quite late. Liam Brady sat me down and said 'You've got a wand of a left foot, you'll have a career'. But he said I may have a better channel at a different club. Those were his words."

Telegraph.co.uk

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