LYON: Buoyed by their team’s surprise success at Euro 2016, thousands of Wales fans have descended on Lyon, ready to cheer Chris Coleman’s Dragons in Wednesday’s semifinals against Portugal.
“Just to be here, and to experience this, is something we will all never forget,” life-long Newport County fan Rob Santwris told Agence France-Presse.
Led by their talisman Gareth Bale, Wales will meet a Portugal side led by his Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo at the Stade de Lyon for a place in Sunday’s final.
UEFA alloted 5,000 tickets each to Welsh and Portuguese fans for the game when the opponents were decided. But thousands more are expected in Lyon for the occasion.
Wales fans gathered on Tuesday night in the bars, pubs and restaurants in the city’s old town district, Vieux Lyon, and the central Bellecour area ready to cheer their side on.
Fans decked out in red, carrying the Welsh dragon flag, filled the city’s bars on the eve of the match.
Santwris said he has organized eight buses to come to France for Wales’ Euro 2016 games, but treated himself to a flight into Geneva from Bristol for the semifinals.
Buses carrying around 100 fans from Newport alone were expected in Lyon on Wednesday in time for the 1900 GMT kick-off. Thousands more are making the trek over by road, rail and plane.
Groups of fans from all over Wales have been travelling around France supporting their team in their first appearance at a tournament finals since making the quarterfinals of the 1958 World Cup.
Santwris, who runs a carpet business in Newport, said he has not stopped smiling since Wales’ stunning quarter-final win over Belgium last Friday.
He traveled by bus through the night from South Wales to Lille for Wales’ 3-1 win, then back again in the early hours of Saturday morning.
He said that after so many years of disappointment and near failures in trying to qualify, the current Wales team has seized their chance on the big stage.
Wins over Slovakia, Russia, Northern Ireland and Belgium en route to the last four in France have caught the imagination of football fans in the principality.
“It’s just got better and better with each round, we’re like a boxer who keeps getting back up again,” said Santwris.
“It’s going to inspire the next generation of footballers back home.
“In the next ten years, there’ll be the new Gareth Bale or Aaron Ramsey coming through.”
If Wales beat Portugal, either hosts France or world champions Germany are the Welsh team’s opponents at the Stade de France on Sunday.
“It’s amazing that we have just got this far and as for the final against France or Germany, what have we got to lose?,” added Santwris with a grin.