Wales win over international media despite defeating Ukraine – with even Gareth Bale’s critics joining in praise
While Gareth Bale might have put retirement on hold “for a little bit” after last night’s victory, he should still consider swapping his boots for a diplomatic bag one day.
A winner-takes-all play-off against a country fighting for its survival would be an awkward proposition for any ambassador and, understandably, global headlines have focused on Ukrainian heartbreak.
But even after winning a match billed as “Wales against the World”, Bale and his team have ensured the whole country has emerged with credit from the international media – including from the captain’s harshest critics.
Just two months ago, Diario AS published a column under the title “Bale. Go. Now. In that order” amid a barrage of what Bale branded “malicious” stories from the Madrid sports media.
Today, the same newspaper is running a video of the “very emotional” moment Bale comforted Ukraine’s Oleksandr Zinchenko in a “great gesture” before the whole squad headed over to applaud the Ukrainian supporters. “A detail that honours Bale and his whole team,” reads the headline.
Similarly, Germany’s Die Zeit illustrates the spirit the game was played in with a photo of Ben Davies consoling Andriy Jarmolenko on full-time.
Meanwhile, Marca, who most controversially referred to Bale as a “parasite”, now call him a “star” and round-off their match report with “Lo Balen”, a play on words of “Lo Valen” (they’re worth it.)
L’Equipe have labelled him “the real prince of Wales”. “We bet that distinction would cause less debate if it was given to Bale who yesterday, at 32 years old, has reinforced his status as a living legend,” said the match report in today’s edition of the legendary French sports daily.
The football blog of Italy’s famous Gazzetta dello Sport though highlighted Hennessey’s performance, saying qualification was “won by the fingernails” of the goalkeeper who made nine saves.
Hennessey was the “hero of the Welsh team and the Ukrainians ‘nightmare”, according to Poland’s top-selling Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper. Ukraine’s own Sport website compared his performance to the eponymous Cognac brand.
It wasn’t just the behaviour of the squad that won plaudits, but that of Wales’ supporters too.
The New York Times reports how “Wales’s team paid the same tribute to the Ukraine supporters, some of whom were by then swapping their bright yellow and blue jerseys for the red ones worn by Welsh fans in a final show of friendship, an enduring sign of respect on an emotional day.”
That didn’t go unnoticed by Ukrainian fans, according to Politico Europe. “We were really impressed by the support from Wales. I was crying,” said 25-year-old Yulia, who was attending her first-ever football match after moving from Kharkiv to Cardiff just a week ago.
There was one particular song that left an impression on the visiting media.
Referring to the decision not to hold the match in the larger Principality Stadium, the correspondent for Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote: “Just before the start of the game, it became clear why this was decided. Folk singer Dafydd Iwan belted out his self-written folk song ‘Yma o Hyd’ together with the Welsh fans.”
The report in NRC Handelsblad, the Dutch paper of record, begins: “The pouring rain at Cardiff City Stadium did not affect Dafydd Iwan’s mood before kick-off [who] whipped up the crowd with his performance of ‘Yma o Hyd’. The song is a patriotic tribute to Wales. Despite adversity, the nation always stands firm.”
Spain’s El Pais told readers: “When it was all over and Wales and Gareth Bale had won their ticket to the Qatar World Cup, the 78-year-old singer Dafydd Iwan went out on the pitch again, as before the match, to sing the Yma o Hyd, a hymn of Welsh resistance that he composed in 1983 and with which the Cardiff City Stadium was hoarse, which was still overflowing more than half an hour after they had defeated Ukraine.”
Despite everything, Wales is on the world stage again for all the right reasons thanks to its football ambassadors.
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