VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson has been waiting a long time to see Wales in a major international tournament.
First as a boy growing up as a diehard fan, then as a player trying to help his country get there, and now as a former international watching from afar as a fan again, Robinson imagines kicking every ball and is going through all the emotions of every Welsh fan.
Wales have qualified for their first ever UEFA European Football Championship in France this month and it's their first appearance in a major international tournament in 58 years, when they took part in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.
The Welsh have more than made the most of the opportunity afforded to them, finishing top of Group B with a 3-0 thumping of Russia on Tuesday to advance to the knockout stages.
“It's an unbelievable achievement,” Robinson told MLSsoccer.com before departing for Toronto ahead of Tuesday’s Amway Canadian Championship fixture. “All the hard work we've put in the last two years has been shown on the world stage in relation to topping the group.”
Wales bounced back in style after their heartbreaking late 2-1 loss to England on Thursday, and Robinson has been delighted with how Wales have played overall in the tournament so far.
“I thought they've been excellent,” Robinson added. “The first and the third game they played, with passion, pride and a great attacking threat, even though we know what type of team we are – a counterattacking team with our forward players breaking very quickly. The second game against England I thought we looked nervous and the better team won on the day but that doesn't mean the better team wins the group.”
Qualifying for this tournament was already a major achievement for Wales, but the belief was always there that they could go out and do something at it.
They've certainly done that so far and their performances are now reaping the reward of many years of rebuilding the Welsh program, going back to the days that Robinson hung up his own international boots.
What Wales have achieved so far fills Robinson, and the entire country, with a lot of pride.
“It's unbelievable,” Robinson said. “Sometimes words can't explain how you feel as a proud Welsh person. It's a special moment for me, being Welsh and managing to play for them, and the country as a whole. If you stick together you can get out of the game what you put in.”
"Hundreds and hundreds of people have put a lot of work in up to this point and I hope that people don't forget the work that John Toshack put in and the work the late Gary Speed put in and now the work that Chris [Coleman] has continued to do, so everyone deserves a big pat on the back."
It's been a rollercoaster of emotions for Robinson watching the group games, and trying to fit them in around the ‘Caps schedule, but he's been in good company with fellow former Welsh international Robert Earnshaw, who currently coaches the 'Caps U-15 side, and they've been trying to catch the games wherever they can.
That meant a slightly later start for Whitecaps FC training on Thursday to allow for the England game, and today's big win over Russia was watched in part at the 'Caps training facility in Vancouver before having to watch the rest on the way to the airport to fly out to Toronto.
Robinson will be in Philadelphia for Wales' round of 16 matchup against Northern Ireland on Saturday in Paris, which he'll take in before the 'Caps face the Union in MLS action.
“Anything is a bonus now, it really is, but let's hope this journey continues because if we get through the round of 16 and get to the quarter-final stage, you know you're going to play a big team and we've shown in the group that we can beat the big teams.”
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