GREATEST GAME EDITION
GREATEST GAME EDITION
Cymru 3-1 Belgium – 1 July 2016 – Stade Pierre-Mauroy, France.
Cymru XI: Hennessey (GK), Chester, Gunter, Williams (c), Davies, Taylor, Bale, Allen, Ledley (King 78), Ramsey (Collins 90), Robson-Kanu (Vokes 80).
Goals: Williams (30), Robson-Kanu (55), Vokes (86).
“Belgium knew what we were all about,” explained Chris Coleman to UEFA.TV when reflecting on the match last summer. “And we knew what Belgium were all about. I think the Belgian public were quite confident when they found out they were playing us in the quarter-final, but I think if we’re honest and you ask the Belgian players, they would have been a little bit more sceptical, because they knew we wouldn’t lie down. With every game that passed, the players had more confidence in themselves and in each other, so it wouldn’t have really mattered if it was Belgium, or whoever it was.
“It was just about us getting our distances right defensively, from our centre-back to our centre-forward, making sure that distance wasn’t so big where Belgium would play around our midfield. So we condensed that space and we had a box midfield of Aaron [Ramsey], Joe Allen, Joe Ledley and [Gareth] Bale. We outnumbered their central three midfield players and we capitalised on that. After they scored, we really ran the game from midfield, so there was nothing for me to change. They were interchanging superbly well, and that’s really what dictated the game for us.”
After going a goal behind to a fine strike from Radja Nainggolan, Cymru responded through captain Ashley Williams. “Ash had been coming close in the campaign,” Coleman added. “To be fair, he was doing really well. When he got the goal, he deserved that because of his performance and his mentality towards the group. He’s an incredible leader, he’s absolutely first-class, and I was so delighted for him when he got it. We’d worked on it in training and it was a superb header. That’s what really lit the fire on the evening.”
The victory was eventually sealed by a moment of genius from Hal Robson-Kanu and a superb header from Sam Vokes. “Hal’s got options just to roll it back,” explained Coleman. “Because I can see that happening in slow motion, I’m thinking - 'Just set it back, Hal.' And as he looks like he’s going to set it back and the defender goes for it, he does the Cruyff turn, and you’re just like - 'Wow, I can’t believe he’s done that!' But he still had to score, which is the hardest bit, but he kept his head right and hit the target. He put in a real punchy shot and it was a surreal moment because our supporters have gone absolutely ballistic because of the type of goal it was.
“There’s a famous clip where I’m speaking to myself, watching Chris Gunter cross the ball. I don’t want him to cross the ball because there's only four or five minutes left. I can see Sam’s in the box and he’s got the run on the defender and Chris has seen it, and Chris has put in a super cross because the pace was on the ball. But the way Sam Vokes headed it – it was one of the best headed goals I’ve ever seen. It was immense.
“The feeling was… I can’t describe to you that feeling because, in my career as a player and as a manager, I’ve never bettered that. We’re all just Welsh fans in a moment like that. You’re one of the crowd. I’m just a Welshman, just like everybody else celebrating and that was a pretty special moment to be fair. To finally qualify for a tournament was incredible, and then to do what we did, it was an absolutely precious moment.”