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Why Cymru can celebrate EURO past and present

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Decades of frustration and disappointment preceded qualification for EURO 2016, and it was the hurt and pain of previous campaigns that made the success of finally reaching the finals in France all the sweeter. It was an achievement that generations of Cymru fans had dreamed of experiencing, and it had finally become a reality.

The success continued as Chris Coleman's side defied the odds to reach the semi-finals in France. The defeat to Portugal in Lyon brought a different type of tear to the eye, but the agony of being so close yet so far quickly subsided as the magnitude of what Cymru had achieved replaced the pain with a clear sense of pride.

Just as John Charles had missed the 1958 World Cup quarter-final against Brazil through injury, the influential duo of Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies would miss the semi-final in 2016 through suspension. Two different generations but two similar stories of just what might have been. Brazil and Portugal would both go on to win the respective tournaments.

Qualifying for EURO 2020 brought similar scenes of celebration as Aaron Ramsey scored both goals in the decisive victory over Hungary in Cardiff back in November 2019. The pandemic changed the timing and the dynamic of the finals, and the restrictions made for a very different experience to five years before. 

However, Rob Page and his side produced when it mattered, defying logistical adversity to take four points from the opening two games against Switzerland and Turkey in Baku to finish runners-up behind group winners Italy, despite a 1-0 defeat in the final game in Rome. 

Heading to Amsterdam to face Denmark would prove to be one challenge too many, and while the 4-0 defeat brought this particular chapter to an end, the story continues for this young and talented generation of players. They will learn from the experience, and what they take from the positives and negatives will serve them well in the next campaign.

Reflecting on EURO 2016 in the build-up to EURO 2020 was inevitable, and while it added a weight of expectation, it also acted as an inspiration. Some say that we should move on from the past, but what that side achieved in France will mature like a fine wine, and the difficulty of the latest tournament only serves to emphasis just how impressive that success was. 

Just as what Jimmy Murphy and his side achieved in 1958, both EURO tournaments should be remembered positively in the history of our national team. EURO 2016 was the culmination of a generation reaching their peak at the perfect time, but EURO 2020 will be remembered as a pivotal point in the development of the current squad that will be appreciated more with future success.

And it's that future that we must now focus upon as the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign resumes in September. Only once has Cymru graced the world stage, and while that achievement is now consigned to the annuls of history, it should not be considered any less impressive. As a small nation, we must learn to celebrate our achievements, while maintaining an ambition to succeed beyond expectation. 

In each of our three major tournament appearances, we have lost to the eventual winners. Brazil, Portugal and Italy all showed respective generations the level that must be achieved to experience winning the ultimate prize in the international game. We may not yet be in a position to emulate them, but smaller nations will have been inspired by what we have already achieved. 

Although it ended in frustration, EURO 2020 will have given our younger players a hunger to compete on the biggest stage again in the future. The pain and disappointment will be their inspiration now, while past success should continue to be celebrated for the part it holds in our long and proud history. The journey, of course, never ends.

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