Euro 2016: 'Wales win over Belgium dwarfs other achievements'

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Euro 2016: Wales 3-1 Belgium highlights

If Hal Robson-Kanu's winner in Wales' Euro 2016 opener against Slovakia was the scuff of dreams, his goal in the quarter-final victory over Belgium was the swivel that turned Welsh football on its head.

It was a moment of inspiration that belied his status as a striker without a club following his release from Reading. His turn hypnotised the Belgium defence and his finish swept Wales into the unknown, a first semi-final at a major tournament.

On the pitch and off it, the celebrations were wild and joyous.

While Robson-Kanu embraced his team-mates and coaches on the Wales bench, the red shirts in the crowd did the same.

To the Wales fans who had waited for this since the 1958 World Cup, it did not matter that they were vastly outnumbered by the multitudes of Belgians who had made the short journey over the border to Lille.

The Welsh national anthem, 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau', still reverberated around Stade Pierre Mauroy at a spine-tingling volume.

This, after all, was their moment.

"You dream about nights like this," said manager Chris Coleman after watching his side eclipse every one of their predecessors by striding so majestically into a semi-final against Portugal on Wednesday.

This was Wales' greatest performance and their greatest result.

Exceeding expectations

Wales are the smallest country by population to reach the last four of a European Championship.

Victory in Lille was all the more remarkable as it came against a Belgium side ranked second in the world and blessed with a generation of players earmarked for greatness.

Despite the star quality of Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale and Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, Wales' ranking of 117th as recently as 2011 demonstrates why they travelled to France as underdogs.

They were supposed to be back home by now but, to the delight of those in France and Wales, their Euro 2016 voyage continues.

"We were as far away from where we are now as you can be," said Coleman. "The whole experience for us is uncharted territory.

"All we can do now is keep reiterating to them to never forget what it has taken for them to get here."

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Euro 2016: Joyous celebrations for Wales after quarter-final victory

More to Wales than Bale

Such has been the momentous nature of their campaign, there have been several occasions to debate Wales' greatest results and performances.

The demolition of Russia was a thrilling display of attacking football, while the tense second-round victory over Northern Ireland saw them emulate the class of 1958.

However, in terms of the significance of the result and the majesty of the display, Wales' win against Belgium dwarfs every other achievement.

They had to overcome adversity, falling behind and seeing three of their five defenders booked as they tried to contain rampant opponents.

But they fought back with fiery determination and, crucially, had the composure to adhere to Coleman's game-plan.

Bale is the talisman of this team, a force of nature whose pace and power changes games - but he cannot win matches on his own and this triumph was further evidence that Wales' success is built on their team ethic.

All five defenders were pivotal to Wales' revival, quelling the threats of Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne, while Joe Allen and Ramsey took control in midfield.

The scorers of Wales' goals embodied this side's propensity for defying the odds, starting with captain Ashley Williams, who toiled as a semi-professional before climbing the leagues with Swansea City.

Then there was Robson-Kanu and his second-half replacement Sam Vokes, the Burnley striker who also spent last season in the Championship.

"We showed again we are about the team - the subs that came on did really well too, said left-back Neil Taylor, who scored his first international goal against Russia.

"We had three different scorers and I should have scored myself - it was a very good save."

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Euro 2016: We believed we would win - Gareth Bale

Portugal next

Wales will have to call on that strength in depth when they face Portugal on Wednesday after Ramsey and Tottenham defender Ben Davies received yellow cards that mean they will be suspended for the semi-final in Lyon.

"Rambo and Ben are big losses," admitted Coleman. "Everything their country has asked they've delivered. We wouldn't be sat here without them."

Their absences will create opportunities in midfield, where Jonny Williams, Andy King and David Edwards will be vying to replace Ramsey - and in defence, with Jazz Richards and James Collins the options.

Wales have proved their success is based on collective excellence rather than a smattering of individuals - but there is no escaping the personal duel set to dominate the build-up to Portugal: Bale v Cristiano Ronaldo.

Team-mates at Real Madrid, they are the most expensive and second most expensive players in history. Two extraordinary forwards, both key figures for their countries.

Yet the real intrigue is based on their relationship, one which has seemed strained at times.

Publicly, they deny any claims of tension. Privately, as fierce competitors, each will surely be desperate to claim victory against the other.

After the win against Belgium, Bale and his Wales team-mates were eager to stress this will be a game between Wales and Portugal, not just Bale and Ronaldo.

Wales' players will be playing for their country, their fans, for each other - and for Davies and Ramsey, Taylor says: "Hopefully we can get to the final for them."

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Wales fans celebrate 'amazing' win in Lille

Pundits

Robbie Savage: I'm supposed to going on holiday tomorrow. I didn't think Wales would get this far. I can't tell my kids I'm not coming on holiday but when will Wales ever do this again?

This is the best Welsh performance I've witnessed. Something special is happening here tonight.

Dean Saunders: We have seen so many dark days in Welsh football. We played for so many years and have never qualified for a tournament, let alone got this far. I just can't believe what has happened. We can win this. Portugal haven't won a game in 90 minutes yet.

Gary Lineker: Wow. Just wow. What an incredible performance. One of the greatest performances in the history of British football.

Wales fan
Six thousand fans were watching the game at a fan zone in Cardiff

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