EURO 2016 – Russia v Wales

My penultimate group game of the tournament was Wales’ showdown with Russia in Toulouse. The weather was beginning to improve as I pulled up at the stadium in the middle of the afternoon, so with plenty of time to spare, I decided to head into the center of town. I went armed with a pair of Canon EOS 1DX bodies, one with a fixed 24mm f/1.4 lens attached to it, and the other with another prime lens, the 50mm f/1.2.

I hopped on the tram close to the ground which crept into the heart of the old town. It wasn’t long before the familiar drone of the football chant became audible, and then there they were – hundreds of Welsh supporters, the majority of whom were decked out in the rich red of their nation’s home shirts, gathered outside The Melting Pot Pub alongside the Boulevard de Strasbourg…

The Gendarmerie stood by, keeping an eye on proceedings, just as their colleagues had done in Bordeaux a couple of days earlier. Once again, a football was flying from one side of the road to other, although on this occasion, the road was still very much open, and busy. On more than one occasion, the ball, inflated to within an inch of it’s life, came thundering down onto the tarmac as a result of a drunken punt into the sky, barely missing the passing traffic. Just the slightest deviation in the ball’s flight could’ve done some serious damage, but as it happened, it was smiles all-round as play continued.

Sooner or later, something had to give, and before long, a rogue kick from the pub side of the road left the ball at the feet of a group of Gendarmerie…

As the Irish did in Bordeaux, the Welsh fans too thought this spelt the end of their fun. And for five minutes, it did, as the officers insisted on a break in play, perhaps to gauge the fans’ reaction. Calm was maintained, and in the eyes of the police, this was satisfactory…game on!

By the time I had returned to the stadium, the temperature had peaked. The media center offered a surprisingly-welcome retreat. Having chosen my seat, I headed out into the stadium, an intimate single-tiered arena offering fans a rare opportunity to experience the action at close quarters. In a change from my usual approach, I’d decided to sit on the side of the pitch, in a seat just a few yards up from the corner flag. The noise levels increased as the two sides made their way out onto the pitch, with fans from both sides making themselves seen and heard…

From the very start, Wales looked more likely to make a breakthrough. Play was dominating the far half of the pitch, so it was little surprise to see Wales head into the break 0-2 up…

Despite Russia’s attempts to drag themselves back into the game, Wales remained on top in the second half, scoring a third courtesy of Gareth Bale. A passionate celebration right in front of me on the southern touchline gave me what I’d been hoping for…

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Gareth Bale celebrates after scoring Wales’ 3rd goal

The game finished 0-3, Wales were into the knockout stages, and as news of England’s pitiful efforts against Slovakia trickled through into the stadium, the jubilation among the Welsh supporters was impossible to contain. The players celebrated like they’d won the tournament – I don’t mean that in a negative or patronising way by any means, but purely in complimentary terms. The togetherness shown by each and every one of the Welsh players and their staff appears to working wonders, and so they march on, to a Last 16 tie in Paris…

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