The Welsh met in a circle after the game in Baku. In the middle stood Gareth Bale, who as captain was about to deliver an encouraging speech after the 2-0 win against Turkey. But suddenly Bell smiled and held both hands. “I’m sorry,” he said to the laughter of his comrades. Perfect timing joke.
Because although he missed a penalty in the second half, of course the captain had no reason to apologise. With his strong performance, he propelled Wales to their first win, thus almost making it to the Round of 16. Despite all the expectations, Wales could be dreaming of yet another surprise at the 2021 tournament. And before the last group game against Italy this Sunday (6 p.m. / ZDF & Magenta), Bell and his teammates showed exactly the qualities that brought them to the semi-finals at the last European Championships in 2016: fun and fearlessness.
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Unlike France five years ago, the famous Red Wall has only a few thousand fans this summer when his team plays their group games in distant Azerbaijan. But the bond between the team and the supporters remains as strong as ever. Also on Sunday, players will turn to fans in the national anthem and sing with them about the valleys, the bard and the ancient language.
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Especially for the fans, the players now want to surprise against Italy. Wales may have a leg up in the next round, but they could still be group winners with a win in Rome. This would mean that they will play the 16th round at England’s Wembley Stadium and will play at least one match in front of their home crowd. “Scotland, England and most teams were allowed to play at home, but our fans had to travel halfway around the world,” said Conor Roberts, who scored the second goal against Turkey. “Hopefully we go as far as we can and at some point we will see more fans in the stadium.”
It might also help that Wells was able to fly a bit under the radar in Baku. As with other British countries, the pressure is quite high these days. The Scots are full of hope in their first tournament in 23 years, and have a legitimate but overwhelming hope of ending a long title drought on home soil in England. Although Wales’ hopes were bleak, the prospect of another summer fairy tale ahead of the tournament looked bleak. At that time several players from the rear had departed, and coach Ryan Giggs had to miss the European Championship because he was accused of assault. Indeed, Wells could only surprise positively.
go too far for fans
This has also been achieved under interim trainer Rob Page. Television reporters are also quite careless with Welsh people, and in some cases brazenly biased. When video evidence denied a Swiss goal late in the first group game in favor of Wales, BBC commentator Robbie Savage cheered as if he were a fan in the stands.
If Wales actually makes it home in the round of 16, the feeling and the hopes will be heightened. “Don’t Take Me Home” is a refrain from the summer of 2016, but now the Welsh people want nothing more than to come back to the island and let their fans experience all their glory.
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Tributes to Welsh fan culture have grown in popularity over the past few weeks. The Guardian wrote about the “bilingual contraceptive culture”, while others also wanted to look at a political phenomenon. “The modern Welsh identity has found its redemption in our national football team,” former national player and current sports official Laura McAllister wrote on the news portal “WalesOnline”. Much more than the traditional national sport of rugby, football can strengthen the confidence and international reputation of the Welsh people.
At least on the pitch, soccer players are really making sure that Europe’s eyes are on the smallest country in Great Britain. Also on Saturday in Rome they will play happily and without any fear. “We can never be written off,” said winger Dan James. “Italy have a great team, but we think we can win.”
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