They cannot be bottled and kept, but they are remembered and retold for years to come, and as the passage of time distorts the reality, the magnitude of what occurred increases as it's place in history is cemented. In Welsh football folklore, one July evening in Lille stands above any other. It was the night that the impossible was made possible, and how a group of individuals came together in the colours of Cymru to show that anything can happen with enough determination and belief even when the odds are firmly against you.
Cymru had defied the odds to reach the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2016. For many fans, qualifying for the finals of a major tournament after a 58 year wait was the pinnacle. Others just wanted to be in Bordeaux as the anthem was belted out for the opening game against Slovakia, while some just wanted to celebrate a goal. Whatever happened that summer in France, history was going to be made, and everyone wanted to be a part of it. It was the most beautiful summer of our lives, and the open question of what might have been means that it will continue to be discussed and debated without closure for many more years to come.
Chris Coleman's side created special moments in each and every game during the tournament, but many expected the journey to come to an end against Belgium in Lille. With a large support behind them having made the short journey, Radja Nainggolan opened the scoring for Belgium after 13 minutes with a superb strike, while a booking for Ben Davies in the opening exchanges meant that he would miss the semi-final should Cymru progress. It seemed as if the dream was slipping away, and the 1-0 win over Belgium in qualifying for the finals felt part of a different era.
But it was far from over. Taking control of the game in midfield, Cymru equalised through captain Ashley Williams on 30 minutes, and the momentum switched in their favour. Cymru began to match their illustrious opponents, and Hal Robson-Kanu produced a career-defining moment early in the second half as he tuned the Belgian defence inside-out and put his side ahead in an unforgettable piece of individual genius. With just a few minutes remaining, substitute Sam Vokes rose above his opponents to head a perfect cross from Chris Gunter past Thibuat Courtois, and having withstood long periods of pressure the game was won.
Coleman, his management team, the staff, the players, the Red Wall, were all as one as the ball left Vokes' head and nestled in the back of the net. Euphoria. The unthinkable had become a reality. The impossible achieved. With minutes remaining, Cymru had to regroup and focus on the task that remained, but Belgium knew that in reality the game was over. Cymru have enjoyed famous victories over Belgium in the past, they will again in the future, but nothing can possibly match the emotion of that night in France.
A second booking for Aaron Ramsey meant that he and Davies would miss the semi-final defeat to eventual winners Portugal. It is an accepted fact within the Red Wall that their presence would have taken Cymru to the final, but we will never know for sure. Just as John Charles missed the 1958 quarter-final against Brazil through injury, these are the fine margins that decide the highs and lows when it comes to following the fortunes of our national team. Let the frustration of the past be the inspiration for future success, and let the drama of following Cymru on this journey never, ever change.
Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now