Gunter, Robson-Kanu and Church into final fourNever before had Wales reached the semi-final of a major football tournament. But thanks to our Welsh connections, the history books will have to be rewritten!
It was Hal Robson-Kanu, who came through our youth ranks at Hogwood, that struck the goal which turned the tie against Belgium on its head, after Ashley Williams had cancelled out Radja Nainggolan’s strike.
And after Wales stood strong, Chris Gunter steamed down the right to cross for Sam Vokes to head in a match-sealing goal with just minutes to go… 3-1 it ended in favour of Wales!
Gunter once again played the entire 90 for Wales – earning his 72nd for his country, and making an incredible 65th appearance in the last 12 months. His 66th will come in Lyon when the Dragons meet Portugal in the final four. And Simon Church is also part of that history-making squad – another that learnt their trade with the Royals’ youth system.
Wales could have actually taken a much earlier lead via Robson-Kanu; Neil Taylor crossed from deep on the left and Gunter was also in attendance and arriving at pace at the back stick, but Robson-Kanu’s headed effort looped over the bar.
Earlier Yannick Carrasco, Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard had gone close within seconds of each other, only for a save, a block on the line and a miscue to keep the scores level. But it was Radja Nainggolan whose 30-yard thunderbolt was too hot to handle for goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey to open the scoring – Kevin de Bruyne teed up the Roma midfielder to hit one of the finest goals of the tournament.
Belgium continued to come on strong. When Gunter got booked in the 24th minute for dragging down de Bruyne, he was already the third player in a red shirt to see a yellow card – defensive duo Ben Davies and James Chester had also both committed similar attack-breaking fouls.
But Wales did get their foot on the ball and worked it around well. Taylor nearly scored an unlikely second of the Euros, only for Thibault Courtois to shift his weight quickly to get a palm on a close-range effort, as the Dragons put the Belgian goal under pressure.
Just after the half-hour mark, that pressure amounted to an equalising goal by the Wales captain. Aaron Ramsey’s outswinging corner was met by skipper Ashley Williams, who arrived unmarked to head into the bottom corner.
Wales could have even taken a lead seconds before the break when Ramsey hung up a ball for Robson-Kanu – on the run, he rose above his marker but couldn’t generate the power to beat Courtois.
Romelu Lukaku and Hazard each went a whisker away from putting the Belgians back ahead – but it was a graduate from our Academy at Hogwood that stole the show with a bit of individual brilliance. Controlling a low cross from the right by Ramsey, Robson-Kanu sent Belgian bodies tumbling with a Cruyff-turn… and then used the space he had bought to lash in with his left and fire Wales into dreamland!
From there, it needed resolute defending. Gunter, who had been hitting the byline from wing-back for Wales, was instead having to tuck into a back five. De Bruyne had a free-kick saved by Hennessey and Marouane Fellaini missed a golden chance with a header – the Belgians couldn’t break down the wall.
And instead it was Wales that hit the decisive goal. Gunter, tireless at ever, got level with the Belgian box and crossed into the middle for sub Sam Vokes – with a flick of his forehead, he put the result beyond doubt!
That means we’ll have a current Royal and two of our youth graduates in the final four (… or three, if Gylfi Sigurdsson’s Iceland can beat the hosts on Sunday!) A truly, truly amazing achievement. And our very best wishes for the semi-final… let’s hope the journey can continue all the way to Paris!