While Gareth Bale may have put his retirement on hold ‘for a little while’ after last night’s win, he should still consider swapping his boots for a diplomatic pouch one day.
A win-win barrage against a country struggling for survival would be a tricky proposition for any ambassador and, understandably, the world headlines have focused on Ukraine’s grief.
But even after winning what was labeled ‘Wales against the World’, Bale and his team ensured the whole country emerged with international media credit – including the captain’s harshest criticism.
Just two months ago, Diario AS published a column under the title “Bale. Go. Now. In that order “amid a deluge of ‘malicious’ stories from Bale in Madrid’s sports media.
Today, the same newspaper holds a video of the ‘very emotional’ moment, Bale comforted Ukrainian Oleksandr Zinchenko in a ‘big gesture’ before the whole team headed towards the Ukrainian fans. “A detail that honors Bale and his entire team,” reads the headline.
Similarly, Die Zeit in Germany illustrated the spirit in which the match was played with a photo of Ben Davies consoling Andriy Jarmolenko full time.
Meanwhile, Marca, who most controversially called Bale a ‘parasite’, now call him a ‘star’ and end their game. report with “Lo Balen”, a pun on “Lo Valen” (it’s worth it.)
L’Equipe called him a “true Prince of Wales”. “We bet this accolade would cause less debate if awarded to Bale who yesterday, aged 32, cemented his status as a living legend,” said the match report in today’s newspaper. editing of the legendary French sports daily.
Football Blog of Italy’s renowned Gazzetta dello Sport, however, highlighted Hennessey’s performance, saying qualification had been “won by the nails” of the goalkeeper who made nine saves.
Hennessey was the “hero of the Welsh team and the ‘nightmare’ of the Ukrainians”, according to Poland’s best-selling newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza. Ukrainian sports website compared his performance at the eponymous brand of Cognac.
It was not just the behavior of the team that was applauded, but also that of the Wales supporters.
The New York Times reports how “the Wales team paid the same tribute to the Ukrainian supporters, some of whom then swapped their bright yellow and blue shirts for the reds worn by the Welsh supporters in a final show of friendship, a sign of respect lasting on an emotional day.”
This has not gone unnoticed by Ukrainian fans, according to European policy. “We have been really impressed with the support from Wales. I was crying,” said Yulia, 25, who was watching her first-ever football match after moving from Kharkiv to Cardiff just a week ago.
There was one song in particular that left an impression on the visiting media.
Referring to the decision not to stage the match in the Principality’s biggest stadium, the correspondent of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung in Germany wrote“Just before the start of the match, it became clear why this was decided. Folk singer Dafydd Iwan sang his self-penned folk song “Yma o Hyd” with Welsh fans.
The report of the NRC Handelsblad, the official Dutch newspaper, begin: “The pouring rain at Cardiff City Stadium did not affect Dafydd Iwan’s mood ahead of kick-off [who] ignited the crowd with her performance of ‘Yma o Hyd’. The song is a patriotic tribute to Wales. Despite adversity, the nation always stands firm.
El Pais of Spain Told readers: “When it was all over and Wales and Gareth Bale had secured their ticket to the Qatar World Cup, 78-year-old singer Dafydd Iwan came out onto the pitch, just like before the match, to sing the Yma o Hyd, a Welsh resistance anthem he composed in 1983 that raucously roared Cardiff City Stadium, which was still overflowing more than half an hour after beating Ukraine.
Still, Wales are back on the world stage for all the right reasons thanks to their football ambassadors.
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