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Wales’ Euro 2016 dream has ensured this is the year of the underdog

Each night the Eiffel Tower wows fans with spectacular light shows to round off the evening – now Wales have illuminated Euro 2016 all on their own.

The famous landmark has been beaming out the colours of the day’s big winners but, on the pitch at least, the latter stages of the tournament were in desperate need of some magic.

That is until Chris Coleman’s Dragons delivered not just an upset but an earthquake of continental proportions.

It is impressive enough a feat that this competition even went ahead, given the security fears and the likelihood of terrorism.

The protection of the public – bar a few unsavoury hooligan incidents in the opening week – had been the overriding success story in France.

But Wales have changed all that and brought the spotlight firmly back to footballing matters.

Against a backdrop of Iceland’s win over England and Northern Ireland’s shock progression to the knockout stafes,tThe little home nation have now ensured Euro 2016 will be remembered as the year of the underdog.

Everyone howled and derided the decision to expand the tournament to 24 teams for this summer.

Critics claimed that it diluted the quality of a competition already dragged down by its qualifying process, which at times feels like wading through treacle. But the success of a host of minnows has proved that you do not need a team full of superstars to succeed at international level.

Team? Yes. Superstars? No.

Wales may have Gareth Bale but that was heavily outweighed against a Belgium squad chock full of world-class talent and ranked No.2 in the world.

Still, they stood toe-to-toe and came out on top. Well on top.

Swansea’s Ashley Williams dragged them level before Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes won it.

Both of them plied their trade in the Championship last season but you never would have guessed it given the quality of their goals.

Wales’ motto for the whole tournament has been “Together, stronger” and the manner of the 3-1 victory over Belgium not only proved they are far more than a one-man team, but that Coleman’s side are real contenders for this tournament.

They are upwardly mobile and by the time the festivities in France are over they may have shed their underdog tag altogether.

Wednesday’s semi-final against Portugal now has a glamorous sub-plot: Gareth Bale v Cristiano Ronaldo.

In the battle of the Galacticos the two protagonists could not be more different.

Laid-back, light-hearted Bale, a unifying force in a team now oozing with confidence and scared of nobody.

Versus the intense and brooding Ronaldo: looking evermore gaunt and desperate, driven to distraction knowing this tournament might be his last-chance saloon for international silverware.

Regardless of the ins and outs, it shows how far Wales have come in a few weeks. From Battle of Britain to world-renowned glamour tie, second only in stature to Ronaldo v Messi.

Wales fans would argue that matchup would pale into insignificance put next to their boys reaching the Paris final on July 10.

Few would now bet against their colours lighting up the Eiffel Tower again next Sunday.

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Article title: Wales’ Euro 2016 dream has ensured this is the year of the underdog

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