Posts Tagged ‘Wales’

Feature: Bale’s Wales charm Dinard as they push for Euro glory

The sleepy Brittany resort town, which has a population of around 10,000, has played host to Chris Coleman’s squad for a month and the mutual affection between players and locals has been clear to see. The players have been taking walks on the beach, playing football with local youngsters and posing for selfies, while Dinard’s shopkeepers and bar owners have festooned the town with Wales flags and window displays. “The Welsh players are very approachable and close to their fans,” says Didier Dré, who runs a shop selling toys, postcards and beach furniture just around the corner from Dinard’s Plage de l’Écluse. “We’ve seen very famous players like Gareth Bale taking selfies with supporters. They’re a very relaxed, very cool team. I think that’s their strength.”

A piece on how the picturesque town of Dinard has fallen under the spell of Gareth Bale and his Wales team-mates during Euro 2016. You can read it here.

Wales at Euro 2016 – the geek gets the girl

Wales fans in Lens

When I was six years old, I wanted to be English. It was 1990. England reached the World Cup semi-finals, everyone fell in love with Paul Gascoigne and it felt completely natural to align yourself with Bobby Robson’s valiant but vulnerable team.

I didn’t know that Wales, the nation of my birth, had failed to qualify for the tournament, finishing below West Germany, the Netherlands and Finland in UEFA qualifying Group 4, but following months of careful prompting by my quietly despairing father, I came to realise that England was not my country. When Wales agonisingly missed out on a place at the 1994 World Cup, after a 2-1 loss to Romania in November 1993, I stretched my Wales shirt over my pillow and cried myself to sleep.

To be Welsh and a football fan in the 1990s and 2000s was to live a life of constant, quiet disappointment. Wales seemed trapped in a cycle of wretchedness, forever finding new and inventive ways of being stuffed by just about every team in Europe. They lost 7-1 to Holland, 6-4 to Turkey, 5-0 to Georgia. They played a friendly against Leyton Orient, and lost.

They wore strange, lurid away kits made by obscure brands like Lotto and Kappa that looked like they’d been fished out of a JJB Sports bargain bin. Even a player as demonstrably great as Ryan Giggs seemed diminished by association with Wales – when he could be bothered turning up – traipsing across the continent looking permanently sad and confused, a shy computer programmer obliged to go on a Magaluf stag weekend with a rowdy group of men he doesn’t know.

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Feature: Bale sets tone for happy-go-lucky Wales

Underpinning the camaraderie is a formidable team spirit that reflects the fact many of Coleman’s players have been representing Wales for years. Bale, Gunter, Taylor and Aaron Ramsey were playing for the Wales Under-17 team as far back as 2006. The core of the current side came together during the latter years of former manager John Toshack’s tenure between 2004 and 2010. It has helped to foster the familiarity of a club side, both on the pitch — where Coleman has been honing the team’s tactical systems for two years — and off.

Dancing, table tennis and ice creams on the beach – here’s my piece on how Wales laughed their way to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.

Feature: Ramsey glows for Wales in Bale’s shadow

It has been said that international duty represents an escape for Bale, who has been under constant scrutiny at Real Madrid since his world-record transfer from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013. The same could also be said of Ramsey. Approaching his ninth season at Arsenal, he divides opinion among the club’s support, with some lauding his talent and work rate while others bemoan his occasional tendency to over-elaborate. The 2013-14 season represented a watershed as Ramsey scored a career-best 16 goals, topped off by an extra-time winner against Hull City in the FA Cup final. But the two years since have seen him shunted around the team as Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger uses Ramsey’s industriousness to counter-balance the creative gifts of players like Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez.

A piece on Aaron Ramsey, who divides opinions among Arsenal fans but is thriving in an attacking role for Wales at Euro 2016. Read it here.

Feature: Wales v England, a tale of fraternal friction

Historically, the relationship between the two nations has been one of English incursions and Welsh resentment, from King Edward I’s invasion of Wales in the 13th century to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s war on striking Welsh coal-miners in the 1980s. Today, Wales answers to the British government in London, although it was given a degree of political autonomy by the creation of the Welsh Assembly in 1999. “Wales is administratively part of England and so Welsh national identity is a rather contested area,” Huw Richards, a Welsh journalist and academic, told AFP. “An awful lot of Welsh national identity is tied into the relationship with England and is about not being England, being different.”

Ahead of their Euro 2016 clash in Lens on Thursday, I’ve written something on the rivalry between England and Wales. You can read it here.

Feature: Bale, Hamšik draw swords for Euro 2016 duel

Distinctive haircut? Check. Multiple national player of the year awards? Check. Feared attacker with a vicious shot and the freedom to roam all over the pitch? Check, check, check. Gareth Bale and Marek Hamšik would be able to reflect upon the many things they have in common were they not lining up against each other for Wales and Slovakia in tomorrow’s Euro 2016 opener in Bordeaux. The two players — topknot-sporting Bale, 26, and mohican-crested Hamsik, 28 — inspired their respective countries to qualify for a European Championship finals for the first time and the outcome of the match may boil down to which of the two players comes out on top.

A piece on Gareth Bale and Marek Hamšik, who face off in Bordeaux on Saturday. Read it here.

Related link: Wales fans’ journey reaches Euro 2016 destination

Interview: Hennessey eyes new horizons with Wales and Palace

Wales had not qualified for a major tournament since the 1958 World Cup and had accumulated a string of agonising near-misses, most notably when Paul Bodin hit the bar with a penalty in a qualifying match against Romania in November 1993 that could have sent the Welsh to the World Cup. Watching at home with his father on the island of Anglesey in north Wales was a six-year-old Hennessey, who remembers the match as much for an uncharacteristic error by Welsh goalkeeping great Neville Southall as for Bodin’s moment of misfortune. “I remember watching it because Neville Southall made a mistake in that game,” says Hennessey, now 28. “A shot popped right through him. I’m a big ‘Big Nev’ fan. He’s my favourite player in the whole wide world.”

I spoke to Wayne Hennessey about making history with Wales, emulating Neville Southall and the Crystal Palace fear factor. Read the interview here.

Analysis: Wales, Northern Ireland emerge from England’s shadow

Lafferty was branded an ‘out-of-control womaniser’ by Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini after leaving the Sicilian club in 2014, but, carefully handled by O’Neill, the 28-year-old has become a talisman for his country, replicating the exploits of David Healy in previous qualifying campaigns. The Northern Irish squad is a blend of wizened old pros and up-and-coming talent, the experience of stalwarts such as defenders Chris Baird (33) and Gareth McAuley (35) supplemented by the verve of players such as young Manchester United defender Paddy McNair (20) and 24-year-old midfielder Oliver Norwood. O’Neill’s man-management has also been a key factor, helping the former Newcastle United midfielder rouse his players to climb from 88th to 35th in the FIFA rankings. “There was a period when Michael went a number of games without a win, but he stuck with it and never gave up,” said Nigel Worthington, one of O’Neill’s predecessors.

I’ve written something on the stories behind and Wales and Northern Ireland’s successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaigns. You can read it here.

Preview: Promised Land awaits for Wales in Israel clash

Hughes’s exit was the catalyst for a slump that saw Wales plunge in the world ranking to a low of 117, only for a youthful side to reverse the trend under the clear-sighted management of popular former midfielder Gary Speed. Speed’s death in an apparent suicide in November 2011 left Welsh football in a state of shock and his former team-mate Coleman was not a universally popular choice to replace him. The gum-chewing, perma-tanned Coleman did little to endear himself to Welsh fans by losing his passport prior to a World Cup qualifier in Macedonia two years ago — forcing him to miss the pre-match training session — but he has since engineered a stunning surge that has seen Wales rise to ninth in the FIFA ranking, above England for the first time. Victory over Israel will lift Wales to the implausible heights of fourth in the world, and they could climb as high as second.

Here’s a piece on the night of catharsis awaiting Wales against Israel on Sunday.

Profile: Ryan Giggs, from pin-up to old master

“Following his parents’ divorce, Giggs adopted his mother’s surname and it was with that name on the back of his shirt that he was to become an international sporting icon. Giggs was the first member of United’s feted ‘Class of ’92’ youth team to infiltrate the senior squad, setting an example that David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers would go on to emulate. A wiry, jet-heeled left-winger, Giggs’s weaving runs made him one of the stars of Ferguson’s first great United team and moved team-mate Gary Pallister to comment that he gave his opponents “twisted blood”.”

My AFP profile of Ryan Giggs, who announced his retirement on Monday after an era-defining 23-year career, can be read here.

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