The dream is up in smoke but Wales' dragons have been the heroes of their own fairytale

A sense of togetherness and tactical acumen powered them to an epic journey

BY Raf Diallo 22:23 Wednesday 6 July 2016, 22:23 6 Jul 2016

Picture by: Mike Egerton / PA Wire/Press Association Images

Like many protagonists, Cristiano Ronaldo will get a chance to redeem himself and his country.

Twelve years on from a European Championship which ended in tears in Lisbon as Greece shocked Portugal, they have a chance to set that right against France or Germany in Paris.

Whether Portugal are destined to overcome past pain is anyone's guess.

They have ended Wales' journey however, but for the Welsh, when this tournament started there was no sense of destiny.

Portugal hadn't been to a major tournament decider in 12 years but Wales hadn't even got to a an actual tournament for 58 years.

The nature of the tournament structure and a group featuring England, Slovakia and a hapless Russia meant they had a decent chance of making it to the last-16.

They did more than that in Group B. With Gareth Bale scoring in every game, they managed to see of Slovakia and blow away Russia 3-0 in a glorious game to pip England to the top of the group.

A sense of togetherness was evident as early as the first game as Bale promptly finished scoring a free-kick and ran headlong down the touchline to celebrate en masse with team-mates and staff alike.

That sort of celebration was applied regularly when Wales scored - and they scored often in France - and was proof of just how bonded the players were to each other regardless of their status.

Training ground images like the one below also showed off the aspect of the club-like mentality in the Welsh camp.

Wales' (left to right) Gareth Bale, Joe Allen, Hal Robson-Kanu and Jonathan Williams during the training session at the Wales Media Centre, Complex sportif du Cosec, Dinard. Picture by: Joe Giddens / PA Wire/Press Association Images

But togetherness won't get you far on its own. Chris Coleman deserves credit for not just continuing what the late Gary Speed put into motion but also finding a tactical setup that sent them to France and all the way to a European Championship semi-final against all odds.

His 3-5-2 allowed freedom for Bale and Ramsey while providing stability and protection behind.

The counter-attacking style only appeared to struggle against teams that like to do the same like Northern Ireland in the last-16 and Portugal in the last-four but it allowed Wales to punish teams that would either be stronger on paper or look to dominate the ball.

But just like Iceland's fairytale, the Welsh return home with plenty of moments and stories to look back on for decades to come - from Hal Robson Kanu's "Cruyff Turn and Goal" against a highly-fancied Belgium in a quarter-final that will become legendary in the valleys to the night they tore Russia apart. 

With Bale and Ramsey's generation still being quite young, they will hope to create many more tales.

But Ireland will have reason to stop them. We are pitched into the same group along with the likes of Austria and Serbia with 2018 World Cup places up for grabs.


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