Wales might not have had a huge ‘red wall’ of fans in Amsterdam’s Johan Cruyff Stadium for their game against Denmark but those watching back home cheered them on from afar. Welshman Ioan Jones, who watched the game at Sheffield’s Nursery Tavern, looks back at his country’s campaign.
Last summer’s postponement of the Euro 2020 left all participating nations in limbo, whether it be player selection, venues or coaching staff. Wales were entering their second major competition in 60 years, but their turmoil stood out, and despite their best efforts, it appeared that everything outside of their control, was against them.
On November 3 2020, manager Ryan Giggs was forced to temporarily step aside following the alleged assault of his then girlfriend, which he denies. Up until then the former Manchester United man had silenced Welsh doubters by beating Hungary 2-0 in the last game of qualification to enter the Euros.
His assistant Robert Page was initially appointed caretaker manager until the issue was resolved, but with Giggs awaiting trial, the ex-Wales international defender was selected manager to lead the nation into the tournament.
Wales’ preparation for the tournament was disappointing, they failed to score in both friendlies, including a 3-0 defeat to World Cup holders France, and were held to a stalemate against Albania, who themselves had failed to qualify for the tournament.
The first game group game was against Switzerland. The Swiss side performed better than Wales, as their world rankings would suggest, but despite going a goal behind early in the second half, Page’s men equalised with 15 minutes to go and held on for a crucial point.
Wales showed passion, determination and an abundance of creativity
Group favourites Italy had swept aside both of their opposition prior to Wales’ second game. Wales’ match against Turkey felt like a must win for the nation by the time kick-off rolled around.
Wales showed passion, determination and an abundance of creativity in what finished a 2-0 win in front of 18,000 Turkish fans in its nearby country, Azerbaijan. It was a superb team performance, but the quality of Wales’ two superstars shone through. Bale set up Ramsey for Wales’ first before half time, and a moment of brilliance from the Real Madrid man in the final minute set up Connor Roberts, who put the game to bed and sent Wales into the knockout stages.
Their final fixture against Italy was as much of a battle with the calculator than the opposing 11 men. Switzerland were expected to beat already-eliminated Turkey by a handful of goals.
On paper, second in the group seemed to serve a more favourable matchup than third, which would be the victors of the “Group of Death”.
Switzerland went 2-0 up within the first half hour, shortly followed by an Italian goal which put Wales 1-0 behind, but by the time full time arrived, despite Wales 1-0 defeat, little jeopardy remained, and Wales were successful in coming second in their group.
Speaking for myself, and most Welsh fans I know, getting out of the group met and exceeded expectations. And the prospect of facing a depleted Danish squad in the round of 16 seemed to hold hope that more celebrations were yet to come.
Wales were forced to play a riskier strategy
Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be. OGC Nice striker Kasper Dolberg scored within 30 minutes, followed by a second in the early moments of the restart. Wales were forced to play a riskier strategy to recover the deficit and as a result were punished, conceding 4 goals in the end whilst failing to score.
The Welsh squad bowed out of the competition in front of 500 members of the ‘red wall’ because each of their games were played in amber or red-listed countries, much to the disappointment of players and fans alike.
The final game was disappointing but the players fought for the badge and made their country proud once again.