A Kasper Dolberg double ended Wales’ hopes of reaching the quarter-finals of Euro 2020, and their chances of emulating their heroic feats from five years ago – as Denmark ran out 4-0 winners in Amsterdam.
It’s been a European tour for Rob Page’s side, who played their Group A matches in the cities of Baku and Rome, before their round of 16 tie at the iconic Johan Cruyff Arena – an adventure that saw them travelling to three cities in 14 days.
While Wales were never the favourites in the 2021 Euro betting odds, they were quite happy to be the underdogs once more – slipping under the radar, similarly to how they were perceived back in 2016. Of course, five years ago, they made it all the way to the semi-finals – losing to eventual winners Portugal.
And they can be proud of their efforts at this year’s tournament – coming from behind to secure a point against Switzerland in their opening game, as well as putting four past Turkey, and even limiting Italy to minimal chances, with the hosts scraping a 1-0 victory. A runner up place to Roberto Mancini’s side was no mean feat, and meant that Wales would face Denmark – Group B runners up.
The nation have come a long way too. A decade ago, Wales were ranked 117th in the world – lower than the likes of Guadeloupe and Haiti. They’ve since qualified for back-to-back European Championships and even secured a place in FIFA’s top 10 – with a record high of eighth. Now 17th in the world, they are still vastly considered as minnows – but the reinvention of Welsh football is truly astonishing.
No-one could have predicted the outcome of their last-16 tie. Denmark looked shaky in their opening two group games – clearly, the horrific Christian Eriksen situation had affected them greatly. But in their final match against Russia, they looked galvanised – as if they needed to honour their talisman with a performance worthy of winning the tournament. And they duly delivered – a dominant display, in which they scored four goals and improved their goal difference to secure second place in the group.
The difference in Amsterdam – fans. After so long during the pandemic where games were played behind closed doors, with no atmosphere and with those watching at home being able to hear a pin drop, it’s clear that fans make a difference.
And Wales could feel rightly aggrieved that their fans – who were banned from travelling to the Netherlands – would have made a difference inside the stadium. The Red Wall as it is known.
It was something that Wales defender Chris Gunter touched upon post-match on social media:
“Every nation had fans wherever they went,” Gunter wrote.
“[But Wales did not] apart from the 350 who broke government rules and bank accounts to be there.
“You and us deserved more from this joke set-up of a tournament, but who said life was fair.
“Have a cry, but then smile that we were dining at the top table yet again.”
You often hear of the Golden Generation – and that time is now for Wales. The ‘Together Stronger’ slogan which has galvanised players, staff and fans alike; the team huddles before matches kick off; and the team spirit, both on and off the pitch. The togetherness – not only between the group of players, but the bond between the players and fans – is unlike any other nation. While the round of 16 exit was disappointing – particularly given the run at Euro 2016 – it’s just a minor setback and it will take bigger struggles to dismantle that Red Wall, that’s for sure.