To see the Welsh football team thriving after years in the wilderness, when they were languishing in the nether regions of world football at a record low of 112 in the FIFA world rankings in 2010, is simply breathtaking.
We have been able to witness their opponents cave in under the sheer force of their character and togetherness. They’ve grown into the tournament, after their first game against Slovakia was fraught with nerves and lacking the conviction with which they have developed over the last four games.
Their performance against England was poor, betraying the mental strength they have shown subsequently. Their display against Russia showed them at their best, however; compact and structured defensively, but lethal on the counter with a varied number of players causing problems. Neil Taylor and Chris Gunter exemplifying why the use of two wing backs in a back five can be so effective and Gareth Bale, Sam Vokes and Aaron Ramsey being the side’s attacking triumvirate on the night.
They illustrated supreme resolve to beat a well organised and steely Northern Ireland side 1-0; Bale proving to be the key to unlocking them with a wicked cross leading to an own goal. They hung in against an extremely talented Belgium side, but never lost sight of what they were about: sharp and incisive counter-attacking football.
This led to their to second half goals in a 3-1 win, with Hal Robson-Kanu sending three Belgium defenders running for a taxi in the process of scoring their second.
But it was their win against Belgium that displayed the marked difference between this Welsh side and the remainder of the teams left in this competition. Wales have been hardened by a long, excruciating climb to the upper echelons of international football.
In a discipline where teams are thrown together after seasons with their clubs to create teams of individuals Wales stand for something more. They truly represent where their country has come from and who they are. Down to earth, hard working men who will be unquestionably honest in their pursuit of this tournament win.
They face a Portuguese team that will be found out in a similar way, even with Wales missing Ramsey and Ben Davies. For many in the press, it’s about Bale versus Cristiano Ronaldo.
For many genuine football people though, it is about a band of Welsh brothers going to war against a team of overvalued individuals and prima donnas. For me, there’s only one winner.
Luke O’Connor, Pundit Arena