Chris Coleman took his seat, puffed his cheeks and said: “What an experience!” Wales’s first game at an international championship finals for 58 years had just ended with their first tournament victory, and their manager said it was the finest moment of his career before insisting his team are ready for what comes next. “Some people are scared of the unknown, but there is nothing to be afraid of,” he said. There may be nothing that can compare to this, either.
“There are moments when you think: ‘I’m not going to be able to top that,’” Coleman said. “When we beat Belgium and everyone was out in the city in Cardiff and the fans starting singing the national anthem, I thought: ‘We’ll never top this.’ But then today, you walk out and you see this sea of red everywhere and then you hear them sing the national anthem and that was just incredible.”
The emotion was clear, although Coleman admitted it could have worked against his team. “You actually have to detach yourself from it a bit, try to be cold and not get carried away, but that’s very difficult,” he said.
“I thought it was our biggest test in two years as a group. To be 1-0 up, because of the support we had, was incredible. Then we sank too deep and let in the goal, and it was hard, so to come back from that was very courageous.
“The supporters deserved nothing less than everything from the players. This was a fantastic game, a big three points and a great experience. It was unbelievable and I’m delighted for the fans, I really am. They have waited a long, long time for this. It is what they deserved, it is what they got and I hope they enjoy it.”
Now they have started with a 2-1 win against Slovakia that puts them in a strong position to go through: even if they were to lose against England and Russia, three points might be enough.
But Coleman, though, believes they can add to that tally. “We’ll enjoy this moment, this tournament, if we do what we did today – that is what it is all about,” he said. “It is not just coming in, enjoying it and going home [at the end of the group stage] and saying: ‘Well, it’s our first tournament.’ There’s nothing to be afraid of. If we do what we can do, there is every chance that we can get what we need.”
Coleman and Wales may also take heart from the return of regular goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey from injury. The Crystal Palace player was unable to play against Slovakia after suffering a back injury last Friday and was replaced by Danny Ward. “[Hennessey] is one of the main reasons we’re here but he tweaked his back and we couldn’t risk it. He’s feeling better, we’ll monitor it and we hope he’ll play [against England].
“We’re going up against England. They are used to high-pressure tournament football and they have been here before. We haven’t, but that could work to our advantage. You don’t fear anybody. If we get our game right, it is enough to get what we need to progress.
“[Against England] we will do what we’ve done for the last two years. I’m not going to toy with formation or play mind games; Roy [Hodgson, England’s manager] is too experienced to fall for that and I don’t believe in it. It is going to be a huge challenge, a big test, but it is one we are ready for.”
And with that Coleman raised a bottle of water as if it were a toast, stood up and left the room to a smattering of applause.
Gareth Bale had earlier described scoring Wales’s first goal here as among the finest moments of his career. “It’s definitely right up there,” Bale, who scored for Real Madrid in their 2014 Champions League final triumph against city rivals Atlético and scored seven goals for Wales during qualifying, told the BBC. “It was a historic moment for our country.”.
This article was written by Sid Lowe at Stade de Bordeaux, for The Observer on Saturday 11th June 2016 21.07 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010