Cardiff (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Some 27,000 Wales fans who massed in Cardiff for the biggest football match in the country’s history showed their pride in the team’s historic run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals despite Wednesday’s heartbreaking defeat.
As Wales lost 2-0 to Portugal in the French city of Lyon, supporters gathered at the Millennium Stadium in the Welsh capital to watch every second of the action on giant screens.
The stadium is the cathedral of the national sport of rugby union, but on Wednesday there was no doubt that football ruled the roost.
Ahead of the match, the Cardiff streets were filled with supporters — equal numbers of men and women — wearing the red of Wales and getting their faces painted with the red dragon.
Draped in the Welsh flag, others sung “Don’t Take Me Home”, the terrace chant that Wales fans have taken around France throughout Euro 2016.
Keiran, 16, from Cardiff, said he was “going crazy already”, several hours ahead of the game as he bounced around waving a mini Wales flag and honking a horn, while chanting the name of striker Hal Robson-Kanu.
“I’m very excited. Wales are going to win 2-1. I’ve got trust in them,” he said.
Meanwhile Steffan, 18, from Maesteg, northwest of Cardiff, was “buzzing”.
“I’m energetic. The fever pitch is up,” he said.
Previous matches had been shown in a 6,000-capacity fanzone in Bute Park, but due to overwhelming demand, the venue for Wednesday’s semi-final 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 match was broadcast live on the stadium’s two giant screens, and a specially-erected 100-foot (30-metre) screen on the back of a truck in the centre of the pitch.
Only the upper tiers of the east and south stands were open in the 74,500-seater stadium due to the pitch already being laid out with a dirt track for Saturday’s 2016 Speedway Grand Prix of Great Britain, and the shortage of stewards available at such short notice.
– 100 decibels topped –
Fans streamed in carrying Wales flags and blow-up daffodils, some dressed head to toe in dragon costumes.
The stadium was blasted with “Together Stronger (C’mon Wales)”, the official Wales Euro 2016 anthem by the Manic Street Preachers.
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 the 100-decibel barrier as fans stood to belt out the national anthem “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” (“Land of My Fathers”).
The crowd settled into the match but were on their feet in the 19th minute when star player Gareth Bale fired a shot wide, triggering chants of “Wales! Wales! Wales!”
Despite the tension, fans were confident at half-time that Wales could go on and win it.
“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 came down specially from Wrexham in northeast Wales for the match.
“If they stick to their game plan, they can snatch two goals here. This is not as hard as Belgium in the quarter-finals. They’ll win this,” said quantity surveyor Jack McNally, 26.
“It seems to be more like a rugby crowd tonight and I’m more of a football fan,” said Yan Thomas, 25, from Porthcawl, who has watched Wales’ rise up the world rankings.
“I’ve followed Wales through the bad days. I’ve seen them play in front of 9,000 people in Swansea against the likes of Estonia,” he said.
“I would say the next goal wins it.”
And within five minutes, his prediction came true as Cristiano Ronaldo scored.
Boos rang round the stands when Ronaldo headed in the Portuguese opener, while the goal prompted some fans to jump to their feet brandishing the national flag and chanting “Wales! Wales!”
And at full time, fans stood en masse to applaud, a show of pride in a team that has thrilled a nation.
That feeling of pride was echoed in a tweet by Sam Warburton, the captain of the Welsh rugby union team and a school friend of Bale.
“The whole squad have made the country immensely proud and all return heroes anyway. Well done @FAWales #TogetherStronger,” he wrote.
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