Euro 2020: Excitement builds in Gareth Bale's hometown ahead of Wales V Denmark knockout clash

·3-min read

If there was ever an example of the sheer enthusiasm for football it comes from eight-year-old Joe Houlihan.

He spoke to me during Friday night training in a Cardiff suburb.

Running to the sidelines, he was literally shaking with excitement as he tried to find the words to express how he felt about Wales' upcoming clash with Denmark today.

"I'm feeling very excited… and really happy… and very good that they're playing," Joe said.

"I'm a bit nervous because I don't know who's going to win!"

Joe was among 30 or so children playing football in Whitchurch - where Wales team captain and Real Madrid star Gareth Bale grew up.

A hero in these parts, a mural of his face looks over shoppers on Church Road and many of the kids playing football wear shirts adorning his name.

Ten-year-old Harry Nicholas thinks Wales have a chance.

"I'm really excited. It'll be a tough game but I think Wales could win it, just about."

In the 2016 Euro tournament Wales reached the semi-finals, crashing out following a 2-0 defeat to Portugal.

David Adams, technical director for the FA Wales, trained some of the current national team.

He thinks the team stand a good chance of getting just as far, if not further, than previous sides.

He told Sky News: "You always back the underdogs, and Wales have always been the small nation, the underdogs, and competed fantastically well in the last two European championships.

"I've worked with Joe Rodon, Dan James, Connor Roberts, there's no fear in young players these days - they've all played on high stages and at big clubs."

There are no official fan-zones in Wales because of COVID-19 and despite First Minister Mark Drakeford urging people to watch from home, pub gardens have the marquees and bunting up and are expecting a bumper day.

The virus also means Wales fans are unable to travel to Holland for the match.

But there will be at least one Wales supporter in the crowd at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam.

Robert Way, from Caerphilly, has lived in Holland for the last 10 years and has tickets to the match.

"I couldn't miss this because I've not been home for two years because of COVID-19 so I just wanted to be around Welsh people to be honest. So when I found it was cancelled basically for Welsh people I was gutted."

But he told Sky News the fact he'll be in a minority at the stadium is no issue.

"It's even more important for me to go, screaming the anthem as hard as I can and support the team."

Back in Whitchurch and as the final whistle blew Joe told me he would love to one day play for Wales.

However far Wales get, there is no denying the impact major tournaments can have on grassroots football and young fans' dreams.

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