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Wales: the latest chapter in the year of the underdog

Wales’ Hal Robson Kanu celebrates after scoring. (Martin Meissner / Associated Press)
Wales’ Hal Robson Kanu celebrates after scoring. (Martin Meissner / Associated Press)
By John Leicester Associated Press

The year of the underdog keeps going from strength to strength.

After Leicester City won the Premier League, Wales is now in the European Championship semifinals.

The country of 3 million people that hasn’t played in a major tournament since a goal from 17-year-old Pele put it out of the 1958 World Cup will now get to measure itself against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal after upsetting Belgium 3-1 on Friday.

Sign him up

Hal Robson-Kanu’s goal that gave Wales a 2-1 lead would have made Johan Cruyff, the master of the head-spinning turn, proud.

And this from a forward who is out of contract at his club, Reading from England’s second-tier Championship.

Collecting Aaron Ramsey’s cross from the right, Robson-Kanu sent three Belgium players – defenders Thomas Meunier and Jason Denayer and Marouane Fellaini – the wrong way with his hip-swiveling turn on a dime, dragging the ball around with him with his left foot.

Having made that space for himself, he then coolly fired past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Lame Lukaku

While Robson-Kanu put away his chances, Romelu Lukaku squandered them.

Among the defining images of Belgium’s hot-and-cold Euro 2016 campaign will be the Everton striker with a pained look on his face, ruing another missed opportunity. His failure to have a big impact up front was a fatal weakness in a team bursting with the creative talent of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.

Character showed

Radja Nainggolan’s strike from 30 meters gave Belgium a 1-0 lead after 13 minutes. It was a hammer blow for the Welsh and the disappointment was etched into the face of its star, Gareth Bale.

But the Welsh didn’t wilt. If anything, falling behind galvanized Chris Coleman’s team. In a sustained passage of attacking play, they piled players forward.

Six minutes later, Wales’ efforts paid off, with Williams’s headed equalizer.

Ramsey big key

Easily recognizable in central midfield with his peroxide blonde hair, Ramsey was the go-between for many of Wales’ forward forays. He played a key role in Wales’ equalizer and in Robson-Kanu’s goal that gave Wales the lead in the 55th minute.

A costly victory?

Unfortunately for Wales, Ramsey will miss the semifinal against Portugal after picking up his second yellow card for a second-half handball.

The loss will deprive Wales of its most prolific passer against Belgium.

Also suspended will be defender Ben Davies.

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