Today’s knock-out game in Amsterdam promises to be a festival of everything good about tournament football showcasing two go-ahead, well-matched teams with tales to tell, a togetherness that you cannot manufacture and a big desire to seize their moment.
But rest assured, their supporters are committed to enjoying the ride whatever transpires.
Those harrowing scenes in Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium involving Christian Eriksen exactly a fortnight ago reinforces that fact to all watching Danes, who will embrace the occasion at the Johan Cruyff Arena for all that it is worth – regardless of the result.
The only result that truly matters has been secured. Eriksen is recuperating well and while he will not actively participate in today’s event, the fact that he will be able to watch it with his family is such a blessing.
While millions of football lovers from across the continent will tune in to view an occasion which will offer plenty, there is one genuine pang of disappointment.
The famed Welsh ‘Red Wall’ of supporters – given an “outstanding contribution” award from Uefa after splendidly lighting up Euro 2016 in their tens of thousands – will be sadly miniscule in number in the Dutch capital.
With Dutch coronavirus rules meaning non-essential travel from the UK is banned, only those hardy Wales fans who followed the team from their last game in Italy or those living in EU/Schengen areas can freely travel in.
By contrast, followers of Denmark – an EU country and Schengen signatory – can avoid quarantine in Holland by spending less than 12 hours in the country.
Wales will be up against it in the stands, not for the first time. They have some practice.
In their recent group game in Baku against Turkey, who had the backing of 30,000 supporters in the Azerbaijani capital, the song at the end was Land of My Fathers from the 400 Wales fans.
Wales will return there for the quarter-finals should they get through today and a repeat of their tactically mature, outstanding ‘tournament’ performance against the Turks, which did not subside in the face of a horrendous penalty attempt from captain Gareth Bale. Harnessing organisation and quality would go a long way to achieving that.
It was the coolness of Bale in shrugging aside his desperate spot-kick to keep his head and lead by example for the rest of the game and set up the second goal in stoppage-time from ex-Middlesbrough loanee Conor Roberts which marked him out from the crowd. As did his speech in the post-match huddle to his players, delivered with a sense of purpose and not just elation.
Wales can also count upon a leader on the touchline in ex-Sheffield United and Huddersfield Town player Robert Page, who has handled himself impeccably and stepped in magnificently in Ryan Giggs’s absence.
Like with Bale, Page, a grounded, but driven, deep-thinking football man from the Rhondda who was renowned for his commanding qualities as a player, was thinking about further challenges given his understated reaction at the end. The parties can wait.
A modest individual, Page – given a reference by a certain Chris Wilder ahead of landing the Northampton job in 2016 – would probably choose to downplay his own role in Wales’s latest Euro journey. But others will be quick to point out that his stock has risen impressively. This is no caretaker.
Others have emerged from the shadows, none moreso than Danny Ward, the hero in goal in Huddersfield’s journey to the Premier League back in 2016-17.
The goalkeeper has played just 14 times in three seasons at Leicester City, but his poise, mentality and decision-making has smacked of a veteran in this tournament thus far. He is someone who looks comfortable on the big stage, just as he did at Town.
The stadium may be largely empty of all but a small enclave from the Principality today, but back home, a country of just three million people will stand still.
There may be perspective at Wales’s achievement given their small population, but those on the pitch have business in mind.
The Netherlands was a country which staged one of Wales’s darkest international hours in 1996 when a side containing Neville Southall, Dean Saunders, Gary Speed and John Hartson were dismantled 7-1 in Eindhoven – the nation’s biggest post-war defeat.
It would have been worse but for a ‘man-of-the-match’ performance from Southall with a Wales side managed by Bobby Gould and led on the night by Vinnie Jones, plumbing the depths.
In five games in Holland, Wales have been a beacon of consistency in losing all five, scoring one goal and conceding 16, with the run also taking in defeats in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam.
Should they triumph today, the capital of the Netherlands – metaphorically at least – would belong to Wales, whose redemption song would be written. Just a shame that so few Welsh people would be there to see it in person if that occurs.