Heartbreaking for me to be writing this, but it must be said it was a great game and we gave it our all against a side full of Premier League talent.
As a 21 year old Welshman, my dreams came true last October when the national team qualified for their first major tournament in 50 odd years, their first ever European Championship finals and of course more significantly, the first tournament that they have participated in since I was born. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better than that it did … as we drew England in THE SAME GROUP! You just couldn’t write it could you?
The old rivals were to meet for the first time ever at a major tournament and it was almost like a fairytale and after months of anticipation and eagerness, the day finally arrived last Thursday. The 16th of June, 2016 at 14:00 hours. The two nations squared up in a battle that will probably go down in history.
The mixture of emotions that I felt just before kick off was unreal, from nervousness to pure excitement, I watched it from home, but felt as though I was there!
I watched the game with my father (as I did during the Slovakia match) and as the national anthem played, we both rose to our feet, belted out the lyrics and tried our best to hold back the tears (my father never shows his true emotions, but i swear I caught a glimpse of pride!). As England’s anthem played we muted the television, another one of my father’s perhaps borderline racist pre match rituals.
The game kicked off and so it began. England knowing that they had to win or they’d risk elimination from the tournament and Wales knowing that if we won, we’d guarantee qualification to the last 16. Game on.
The first half began really slowly and in truth didn’t show any makings of a real classic until right at the very end when Wales were given a chance after Robson-Kanu had done well to draw a foul from England skipper Wayne Rooney about 35 yards or so out. Up you step Gareth Bale. Joe Hart stood in the England goal with a big smirk on his face as if to say “you will never beat me from there!” And there was a silent pause around the stadium as everybody in there knew exactly what Bale was capable of. And he did what he does best, the ball blasted onto the hand of Hart who pushed it onto the post and into the back of the net. Wales were 1-0 up and the impossible was happening.
Half time: Wales 1-0 England
As the second half kicked off I felt a certain anxiousness that we were going to throw this game away, as time and time again England began to trouble our defence, with the likes of Kyle Walker and Dele Alli running in behind them. It wasn’t long before they equalised. A cross whipped in had ricocheted off our captain Ashley Williams’ head and found its way to Jamie Vardy (who was standing about an aeroplane wing’s length offside at the time) and he put the ball past Hennessey. 1-1 and me and dad had fully expected the referee to disallow it, we were fuming and shouting “surely he was offside there?!”. According to the rule book, if the ball comes off an opposing side’s player and lands at the feet of the individual who’s offside then it has to be due to an intentional flick, whereas Williams’ header was definitely not intended to go backwards.
Anyway, that aside, England were looking extremely confident after equalising and rained down attack after attack on the Welsh defence. Wales became so desperate that they had to try and take advantage of any attack possible, as Johnny Williams went down in the box under a Chris Smalling challenge, I had shouted “penalty!” (even though I knew that it wasn’t).
We had held on so well. Defended so well. Right until the very end.
In the ninety third minute of the match England found their way into the box one final time, and the Welsh defence seemed to have completely lost track of the ball due to the fact that there were so many bodies in the box. It turned out that Daniel Sturridge was the one who had it, and he fired home a shot to bring cries of heartbreak throughout Wales and send the English into Euphoria.
Unbelievable, truly unbearable, and what’s worse was knowing that my English friends would never let this one go! Many years of hurt go on against our bigger rivals, but someday we’ll get the better of them.
And just less than a week after the game took place, we have managed to finish above England in the group, finishing above everyone in fact, and so we eventually got our revenge.
It’s amazing how quickly things can change in a week, I believe that this Wales team are onto big things, all the best against Northern Ireland lads, I for one couldn’t be any prouder of my homeland at the moment.
Ohh and one last thing …