CARDIFF • The Welsh football team were welcomed back as heroes yesterday, after their unexpected run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals, with an open-top bus tour through Cardiff followed by a homecoming show.
Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers played in honour of the team at the Cardiff City stadium and tens of thousands of fans lined the streets and provided their own musical accompaniment as the players' bus made its way from Cardiff Castle to the ground.
Wales' dreams of becoming the first British team to reach the final of a major tournament for half a century were ruined by Portugal.
But as they bade farewell to Euro 2016, a commonly expressed hope was that their achievements in France would represent a beginning and not an end.
Having waited 58 years to play at a major tournament, Wales made up for lost time in style, topping their group above England and sinking Belgium in the quarter-finals before falling to Portugal.
Along the way their songful, good-natured fans won admirers across the continent, leaving the players determined to ensure they will not have to wait six decades for another overseas adventure.
"We've had a taste of it now and we look forward to the future," said the team's talisman Gareth Bale, who set the tone for Wales' stunning exploits with three goals in the group phase. "We have confidence. We don't want to turn up for one tournament. It's about the bigger picture."
Manager Chris Coleman spoke about the team's prospects with a relish that suggests he fully intends to be in the dugout when Wales begin qualifying for the 2018 World Cup at home to Moldova on Sept 5.
"We've done it, we've sampled tournament football," he said. "I've never seen anything like it. We want some more of that.
"We've got to be hungry. Same hunger, same desire, and I think we'll give the World Cup campaign a hell of a crack."
Coleman, an eloquent spokesman and astute tactician, must now plan for a World Cup qualifying group which includes fellow Euro 2016 sides Austria and Ireland, as well as Georgia, Serbia and Moldova. It does not look easy.
But tickets for the home fixtures are already selling fast because of the team's enhanced status in a country previously better known for its passion for rugby.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS