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EURO classics: Wales 3-1 Belgium

You can watch Wales's shock UEFA EURO 2016 win as-live on UEFA.tv – first we set the scene.

Even those Wales fans watching through the most rouge-tinted glasses arrived at UEFA EURO 2016 with expectations in check. Yet for three magical weeks Chris Coleman's have-a-go heroes confounded everybody – surely they couldn't do it against the No2 side in the world?

WATCH THE FULL MATCH ON UEFA.tv

Context

See Wales’ path to the quarter-finals
See Wales’ path to the quarter-finals

Belgium were many people's tips for the final, especially after ending up in supposedly the easier half of the draw. Following a false start against Italy, a squad packed with talent gave a glimpse of their best as they brushed aside the Republic of Ireland before showing their tougher side with a late victory over Sweden. A 4-0 win against Hungary in the round of 16 suggested it was all coming together at the right time for Marc Wilmots' team.

Tournament debutants Wales stood before them, the rugby-loving country riding the crest of a footballing wave after Gareth Bale had inspired their progress as Group B winners, successes over Slovakia (2-1) and Russia (3-0) salving the disappointment of last-gasp defeat by England. A hard-fought victory over another UK rival, Northern Ireland, took them into the last eight but there was a sense that Belgium in Lille was the end of the line.

Key players

  • Gareth Bale The Real Madrid forward contributed three goals, an assist and a man of the match award en route to the last eight. Those talismanic qualities were not lost on the north Wales town of Bala, which for the duration of the finals changed its name to Bale in his honour.
  • Aaron Ramsey The other genuine star in the Welsh ranks, creative midfielder Ramsey dyed his hair blond for Wales's first EURO but he did not need help catching the eye – a difficult season for Arsenal was soon forgotten.
  • Hal Robson-Kanu The hard-working forward, who just that week was released by his English second-division club, was not an obvious choice of hero, but that French summer Wales wrote their own scripts.
Watch Wales national anthem from EURO
Watch Wales national anthem from EURO

What happened

The quarter-final was going as many predicted when Radja Nainggolen's fine 13th-minute strike put Belgium 1-0 up, but the 'Together, Stronger' strapline emblazoned everywhere in the Wales camp was no mere marketing gimmick: it defined the side. Sure enough, the Dragons came roaring back with a fury. Captain redoubtable Ashley Williams finally made it count with a bullet header.

Wales weren't done. Still they pressed and soon after half-time Robson-Kanu raised the spirit of Johan Cruyff as he turned and fired them in front. The much-touted Belgian team were stung into action, building up a head of steam – but the wind was taken out of their sails when Sam Vokes's fine late header sealed a famous win. Wales had confirmed themselves as the Cinderella act of UEFA EURO 2016.

Reaction

Chris Coleman, Wales manager: "You dream about nights like this. We defended like soldiers. All I can do is reiterate to the players never to forget what it took to get here. I know my team are good enough to perform against anybody."

Watch Wales celebrate their win over Belgium
Watch Wales celebrate their win over Belgium

Hal Robson-Kanu, Wales forward: "We're on cloud nine. We were underdogs even to qualify but we knew the quality we had in the group and we've performed throughout. To put in the performance we have is a credit to everyone involved."

Neil Taylor, Wales defender: "We showed again we are about the team – the subs that came on did really well too. We had three different scorers and I should have scored myself."

How Europe's press reacted

Western Mail, Wales It was without doubt the greatest triumph in the 140-year history of the Welsh international team, one of the best by any British sporting side full stop.

Robbie Savage, BBC pundit I'm supposed to go 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?

The Guardian, England This Wales team write their own scripts. They have been driven this far by a ravenous appetite; they are a bunch of mates playing together and they refused to buckle. It was a triumph of the collective, and one to give Belgium and their Golden Generation nightmares.

EURO 2016 highlights: Portugal 2-0 Wales
EURO 2016 highlights: Portugal 2-0 Wales

L'Equipe, France What madness! Incredible, wonderful scenes yet again. Four wins in five games. The greatest team in Welsh football history. Enjoy the moment.

Aftermath

Wales's fairy-tale run looked like continuing five days later as they got to half-time on top against Portugal. Cristiano Ronaldo, though, has haunted many dreams during his stellar career and so it proved again as he scored one and created another in a 2-0 win. Wales, shorn of suspended pair Ramsey and Ben Davies, had no answer.

KNOW YOUR EURO history?

The quarter-final was Marc Wilmots' last match at the Belgium helm; under replacement Roberto Martínez the Red Devils did make the semi-finals at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, edged out by France.

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