Cardiff (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Wales fans danced and partied with pride into the night despite a heartbreaking Euro 2016 semi-final defeat in the nation’s biggest football match ever.
Some 27,000 impassioned fans who watched the 2-0 loss to Portugal on giant screens in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Wednesday swallowed their devastation and streamed out voicing unabashed delight at how far Wales had come.
“If you can think of every emotion in the world, I’ve felt them all in the last 15 seconds: happiness, anger, sadness, pride,” Conor Wall, 23, from Caerphilly, told AFP.
“No-one expected us to even qualify. You can’t fault us.”
Bouncing around singing in the stadium concourses, fans were ecstatic at the previously unfancied team’s extraordinary run at the 2016 European Championship finals — their best performance since reaching the 1958 World Cup quarter-finals.
“It’s a contradiction of feelings because we’re devastated but we’re so proud,” said Rhian Coles from Cardiff.
“It doesn’t make sense, this feeling. I feel bad for feeling bad — we’ve made history.”
Outside, men whipped off their red Wales football shirts and swung them around their heads, singing “Don’t Take Me Home”, the terrace chant that Welsh fans have taken around France throughout Euro 2016.
– ‘So proud to be Welsh’ –
“It’s incredible. We’ve lost 2-0 — and are elated!” said Taz Afsar, 46, from Fairwater in Cardiff, as he captured the party on his mobile phone.
“We’ve exceeded all expectations. It doesn’t matter who the cup goes to: we’ve already won. They will not match our pride.
“I’m so proud to be Welsh right now.”
Conor Lewis, 23, added: “This is the Welsh spirit at its highest. I’m optimistic. I’m not down about it at all. We’re going to take the 2018 World Cup by storm.”
Matches up to the semi-final had been shown live in a 6,000-capacity fanzone in Cardiff’s Bute Park, but due to overwhelming demand, Wednesday’s gathering was shifted to the Millennium Stadium.
Some 20,000 free tickets were snapped up within 90 minutes of going online, so organisers released another 7,000 — which went in half an hour.
The Millennium Stadium is the cathedral of the national sport of rugby union, but on Wednesday there was no doubt that football ruled the roost.
Equal numbers of men and women streamed in carrying Wales flags and blow-up daffodils, some dressed head to toe in dragon costumes, others with their faces painted with the red dragon.
– ‘Better than England’ –
The cavernous stadium’s retractable roof was shut, trapping in the sound as supporters roared on their heroes.
There were huge cheers at the first sight of the Wales team, with noise levels topping 100 decibels as fans stood to belt out the national anthem “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” (“Land of My Fathers”).
Despite the tension after a goalless opening 45 minutes, fans were confident at half-time that Wales could go on and win.
“We’re the better team. We just need to come back out and do the same. The game’s there for the taking,” said Gavin Darlington, 34, who travelled from Wrexham in northeast Wales for the match.
But though two quick goals for Portugal broke Welsh hearts, any tears were of pride.
“I’m gutted but ecstatic that we made it this far. We made it to the semi-finals! It’s unheard of! We’ll celebrate how far we’ve come,” said Sophie Manley, 27, from Newport, who was wearing a T-shirt bearing the words ‘Thirsty Welsh girl’.
At full time, fans had stood en masse to applaud a team that thrilled a nation.
“I’m heartbroken and just absolutely gutted. We had chances in the first half. But the party goes on. The atmosphere is great,” said Mark Davies, a builder’s yard worker from Swansea.
“We’ve done better than England. That’s what counted,” he added.
Sian Melvin, from Cardiff, said: “We’ll celebrate what we’ve achieved: European and worldwide respect.
“Everyone’s fallen in love with Wales.”
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