July 8th 2016
The year of the underdog: Wales and the Euros 2016

2016 looks to be shaping up as the footballing year of the underdog.

As we saw with Leicester’s heroic domination of the Premier League earlier this year, everyone loves to see the rise of an unexpected team. Wales have also performed beyond critics’ expectations by reaching the semi-finals of the European Championship. What allowed the team to last so far into the championship, ahead of the other home nations?

Though they were defeated by Portugal in Wednesday’s semi-final, the 2016 Euros has been unprecedented for Wales. This is their first major tournament for 58 years, so reaching the final four is especially significant.

But even before their outstanding progress in the Euros, Wales were not without their stars. Forward, Gareth Bale, is currently the world’s most expensive footballer. He made his debut for Wales at just 16. Perhaps some of his glory has rubbed off on the rest of his team.

However, Wales’s victories have not just revolved around Bale. Highlights have included Hal Robson-Kanu’s great goal against Belgium. Robson-Kanu’s performance has been a pleasant surprise, as they player does not currently belong to a football club. Captain, Ashley Williams, has also impressed with a range of goals. Many have cited Aaron Ramsey’s absence from the Portugal match as a factor that weakened Wale’s performance. When other team members’ performances appear to be so crucial to success, it can’t be said that Bale’s prowess alone carried the team.

Many have praised Chris Coleman’s management and leadership, with some calling him a Welsh hero. It is argued that he has fostered a ‘club’ environment within the national team, meaning that players feel just as strongly about playing for the national side as they do for their domestic teams. Either way, Coleman is certainly doing something right; there is no sign of him moving from the position of manager, despite Wale’s defeat at the hands of Portugal.

The Welsh team have dubbed their impassioned supporters ‘The Red Wall’, and called them ‘the best fans in the world’. Welsh supporters have certainly basked in the glory of Wales’s victories. The bond between players and fans has been apparent throughout the tournament and perhaps helped to carry Wales as far as they got.

With the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup looming, many hope that Wales can continue to compete on the world stage. For now, they seem to have struck a successful formula of teamwork, management and fan support. Only time will tell if their success will continue.

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