Everyone loves a heroic loser, but I’d rather be a boring winner
I don’t care how it’s done – whether it’s a bad refereeing decision or an own goal – I just want Wales to get into the semi-final
Belgium have more offensive players than Wales, but we have Gareth Bale and you can’t stop him. You can try to man-mark him if you want, but he’ll still get a chance. Bale is the exception to the rule and the Welsh team know it. They understand they have to work and work to provide Bale with that one chance because he keeps producing.
After the game against Northern Ireland he seemed incredibly at ease. He left Tottenham for Real Madrid in 2013 and now everyone expects him to deliver in every game. But Bale is quite happy to live with that pressure. Look at the England players against Iceland on Monday night – they looked scared to death. The English pundits were saying after the game that pressure gets to you, but Gareth has learnt to deal with the weight of expectation and he’s delivering. He doesn’t look like a big fish in a small pond, he looks like one of the lads. Compare Bale to Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo constantly shows his frustration with his Portugal teammates. He throws his dummy out of the pram and is prone to a hissy fit. Gareth doesn’t do that. Win, lose or draw, Bale is one of us.
He didn’t get much of a look in against Northern Ireland but you have to credit the opposition for that. They defended very well and kept Bale quiet, although he was still able to produce that superb cross which led to the own goal. He is always going to produce something in a game. It may not always win Wales the match, but he’ll always do something special and that’s what great players do. That’s why people get excited by Bale.
People will point to the desperate performance from Wales against Northern Ireland being a negative going into the quarterfinal, particularly as Belgium swept Hungary away 4-0 in their last game. But Wales got through, that’s all that matters. If Wales put in a bad performance against Belgium and get through, then happy days. Greece did that in 2004 and they won it. These games aren’t about how well you play, it’s about results. You can look like the best team in the world and go out 1-0. Everyone loves a heroic loser, but I’d rather be a boring winner. I don’t care how it’s done – whether it’s a bad refereeing decision, an own goal, anything at all – I just want Wales to get into a semi-final.
The Welsh defenders and keeper Wayne Hennessey will look down the Belgium team sheet and see the names Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku – but that shouldn’t worry them. As a keeper I never got sleepless nights about the opposition. I had no control over what the opposition could do, I could only control myself. Anything that happened in front of me was out of my control, I just had to be ready to do my bit if it got that far. I never bothered looking at the opposition team sheet because my job never changed. The style of play from the opposition changed, but my game didn’t. As a footballer you want to get to a level where you play the best, and Belgium are a really outstanding team. Hennessey should be looking forward to it. He will probably have a bit of work to do – so it should be a game for a goalie to enjoy really! Where would these lads rather be? In a ground that’s half full in a game that means nothing, or in the quarter-final of Euro 2016 playing Belgium in Lille. They should be excited. This could the pinnacle of some of these players’ careers and they’ve done fantastically well to get this far.
Hopefully the Welsh lads play up to their potential and Belgium have a slight off day. If they do, it’ll be some night in Wales on Friday – there will be more ‘Gareths’ conceived this weekend than the country has ever seen! Everyone is chuffed to bits with how far Wales have got, but this is the serious end of the competition now. Most Welsh people expected Wales to beat Northern Ireland, but going into this game it’ll be edge of the seat stuff. There’ll be a lot of prayers on Friday. Going in as underdogs is an ideal situation for the Welsh and we beat Belgium 1-0 in the Euro 2016 qualifiers last year – why can’t we do it again?
The joy of watching Roy’s boys
On a side note it was great to see England get knocked out on Monday – and it was really funny watching the video of the Welsh team celebrating Iceland’s goal. Even when Roy Hodgson’s men went 2-1 down I was sure they would still win it, but Iceland were fantastic. They defended stoutly and they have an incredible team mentality. It wasn’t a fluke that they’re in a quarter-final. It’s not Roy Hodgson’s fault, the players have to take responsibility – but as a Welshman it was definitely fun to watch!