Wales stun favourites Belgium
Wales reached the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time after a stirring fight-back to defeat Belgium 3-1 in the European Championship quarter-final in Lille today.
Radja Nainggolan put Belgium ahead with a thunderous 25-yard strike but Wales captain Ashley Williams headed in from a corner to equalize in a breathless first half littered with chances at both ends.
Welsh celebrations reached stratospheric levels when Hal Robson-Kanu, a striker without a club, gave them the lead with a divine turn and finish.
After withstanding late Belgium pressure, Wales sealed victory through a header from substitute Sam Vokes that set up a semi-final against Portugal and a mouth-watering duel between Real Madrid team-mates Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Wales manager Chris Coleman had described the last-eight tie as Wales’ biggest match since their 1958 World Cup quarter-final defeat by Brazil, their only previous appearance in the knockout stages of a major tournament.
His players rose to the occasion wonderfully, recovering from a difficult start to claim what must rank as the greatest win in Welsh football history.
Ranked second in the world, Belgium were strong favourites and under pressure to deliver with a prodigiously talented generation of players.
Yet despite being roared on by what must have felt like a home crowd only 10 miles from the Belgian border, Marc Wilmots’ side were blown away by magnificent Welsh performance.
Wales had to weather several periods of heavy Belgian pressure but, once they had gained a foothold in the game, they took the lead in spectacular fashion.
A neat move saw Ramsey pass to Robson-Kanu, who bamboozled the defenders surrounding him with a graceful turn which allowed him the space to calmly finish.
There was a symbolism to the goal as Robson-Kanu – a free agent following his release from Championship club Reading – swept his shot past Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
This was a goal which embodied Wales’ odds-defying run at Euro 2016, underdogs without any major tournament experience but bound by an unbreakable team spirit and a determination to create history.
Absent from major tournaments for 58 years, Wales have not only ended a barren half a century but propelled Welsh football into uncharted territory.
Williams – who was a doubt for the game with a shoulder injury – epitomised all those qualities, particularly as he celebrated his equalizer by sprinting along the touchline to embrace those on the Welsh bench in scenes of unbridled joy.
Previous Welsh sides have claimed iconic results, such as a 2-1 win over Hungary at the 1958 World Cup, a 1991 victory against then world champions Germany and a qualifying triumph against Italy in 2002.
However, those were in isolation and failed to propel Wales on to greater achievements.
By contrast, their stunning revival against Belgium takes them to the last four of a major tournament – giddy new heights for a nation who were languishing as low as 117th in the world rankings in 2011.