Coach salutes ‘soldiers’

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LILLE — Ecstatic Wales coach Chris Coleman praised his “soldiers” after a shock 3-1 win over Belgium at Euro 2016 yesterday.

The win took the country to their first major tournament semifinal, and said they could match anyone if they were not afraid to fail.

“I know my team are good enough to perform against anybody. We defended like soldiers, our performance was fantastic,” Coleman said.

“The whole experience is uncharted.”

The stunning victory against a side ranked second in the world was the greatest result in Welsh football history and will embolden the players when they meet Portugal next Wednesday for a place in the final.

“I think you dream about nights like this and you never know whether you’ll be lucky enough to live them,” Coleman said.

He had been quietly confident Wales could spring an upset and they deserved the win.

“I said before we kicked the ball today, we are not here to enjoy it, we are here to compete,” he said.

“The big challenge is not the opposition, it is ourselves. It’s not worrying about giving our best and failing.”

Second-half goals from Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes sealed Wales’ triumph after captain Ashley Williams’ first-half header cancelled out an early strike from Radja Nainggolan.

“We were underdogs to even qualify but we knew the quality in our group,” said man-of the-match Robson-Kanu.

“The performance today is a credit to everyone.

“We kept to our game plan. We’ve got world-class players and we can be as solid as a rock defensively. We stand a good chance with that combination.”

Robson-Kanu’s superb goal came after he left three Belgium players for dead with a “Cruyff” turn and calmly stroked the ball home to put Wales 2-1 ahead in the 55th minute.

Former England international Gary Lineker, in his role as a BBC presenter, called Wales’ victory “one of the greatest performances in the history of British football”.

The Welsh fans, who had flocked across the Channel or made their way from other points in France, egged their team on from the start with a mighty choral display.

Although this was almost a home game for the Belgians, whose border is eight kilometres from Stadium Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, the only voices to be heard were Welsh, from Land of my Fathers to Men of Harlech and, their inevitable anthem of Euro 2016, Please Don’t Send Me Home.

On a sour note for Wales, though, they will be without inspirational midfielder Aaron Ramsey in their semifinal after he picked up a booking that has ruled him out of the match.

“I’m gutted for Aaron. He’s been one of the best players of the tournament,” said Coleman.

The London Times special sports section had a full-page picture of Robson-Kanu celebrating his goal with the headline “Hal-lelujah”, while The Sun’s banner read: “Kanu believe it! Greatest ever win!”.

Eight days after Britain voted to leave the European Union, Prime Minister David Cameron offered his congratulations to Wales for their Euro 2016 heroics.

“Amazing performance, amazing result. Passion & pride shown by Wales team & fans are incredible to watch. Bring on Portugal!” Cameron said on Twitter. — Reuters