How Euro 2016 fans are providing an unforgettable backdrop

Certain moments in football matches attain instant immortality, and the Euros have had their fair share over the years

Ali Khaled
Ali Khaled - Special to Al Arabiya English
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Certain moments in football matches attain instant immortality, and the Euros have had their fair share over the years. Marco Van Basten volley against the USSR, 1988. David Trezeguet’s golden goal, 2000. Greece, 2004.

Now, Hal Robson-Kanu, 2016.

Amid the justifiably endless replays, there is one camera angle that truly does justice to the genius of the Welsh striker’s goal against Belgium in last Friday’s 3-1 quarter-final win.

As he executes arguably the most outrageous “Cruyff turn” in football history, three Belgian defenders are left so flat-footed, so dumbstruck by its sheer audacity, that the Welsh striker has time to readjust his balance, have his whole career flash before his eyes, and perfectly place his left foot shot past Thibaut Courtois.

The best goal, of the best match of Euro 2016. Behind the goal, as Robson-Kanu raced towards his teammates and manager Chris Coleman on the touchline, the Welsh fans were collectively going mental, the greatest moment of their lives having just unfolded before their disbelieving eyes.

Football, in all its chaotic glory, rarely serves up such perfection. A golden moment, the product of alchemy from what the legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly called the holy trinity of football: the players, the manager and the supporters.

Never had the team’s official anthem, and slogan, of “Together Stronger” rang truer.

Whatever happens now in the last three matches of the tournament, one thing is certain. Euro 2016 will be remembered as much for the fans as the football.

Only briefly, thankfully, did it threaten to be for all the wrong reasons. Since those early days of ugly hooliganism, supporters of almost all the nations have added a colourful, noisy backdrop to a tournament of proliferating excellence.

Many played to stereotypes. Sadly, a minority of English fans clashed with locals and Russian ultras in Marseille.

Northern Ireland’s fans provided the soundtrack of the competition with their widely copied “Will Grigg’s on Fire”, an ode to their ultimately unused substitute that even had Germany’s Mats Hummels declaring “I really love this song” before the teams' group clash.

The Croatian fans, as ever brilliantly decked out in their red and white checkers, caught the eye in the stands as much as their talented team did on pitch, before a grim defeat to Portugal sent them home prematurely in many people’s eyes. On the other hand, Sweden’s fans were a far more attractive sight than anything Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his subjects could come up with on the pitch.

A special mention too for the Belgian fans. Graceful enough to put a young, wheelchair-bound Irish girl at the top of their conga line after a 3-0 win; and magnanimous enough to give Welsh fans a guard of honour after a crushing defeat.

Above all, alongside the Welsh, were the wonderful, irrepressible Republic of Ireland and Iceland fans.

Many Irish fans, who you’d imagine were too busy having the time of their lives to check or even charge their smart phones, would have returned home to discover they have become social media sensations.

Hardly a day passed without a video of the Boys in Green charming their way across France going viral.

Whether singing “Allez les bleus” or “Stand up for the French police” to a group of delighted security forces; changing a tire for an elderly couple; dancing with an unsuspecting nun; serenading, in their thousands, a local resident on his balcony; or, more brilliantly a baby on a train. The Irish travelling support, as ever, did their nation proud.

For sheer goosebump-inducing memories, little could match Iceland’s magnificent, Viking-like support.

If the world’s media had been unprepared for the team’s remarkable results, it could barely make sense of, as we were consistently reminded, over 10 percent of the 330,000 population being at a football match.

Iceland’s last-gasp win over Austria sent their fans, the online community and one overemotional commentator into meltdown. But that was nothing compared to what was to come a few days later; the scalp of England in one of the greatest shocks the competition has ever had.

At the end of the historic 2-1 win, supporters and players, as they had done in their previous matches, performed the now fabled thunderclap, with it’s accompanying “huh” war cry. The world fell in love.

The French fans, perhaps in tribute, attempted their own version of the thunderclap during their 5-2 win over a tiring Iceland in Sunday’s quarter final in Paris. Instead they ended up conjuring a karaoke version of the real deal taking place at the opposite end of the stadium.

Iceland are the feel-good story of the summer. For now.

Wales and their supporters could yet steal Iceland’s thunder.

Welsh rugby fans have long been famous for their passionate, melodic support of their team. In France, their football counterparts have shown the world what it’s been missing since a 17-year-old Pele knocked them out of the 1958 World Cup quarter-finals in Sweden.

Quite simply, the Welsh support, a uninterrupted sea of red shirts, has been mesmerizing. That their team is the last of the underdogs, the most unexpected semi-finalists since Greece in 2004, ensures that the romance of Euro 2016 survives into its final days.

Wales now move on to Lyon and a semi-final date with Portugal tomorrow, a potential final against Germany or France tantalizingly, gloriously within reach. Whether they emulate Denmark’s heroics in 1992 or Greece’s astonishing 2004 triumph is almost academic at this point.

For their delirious supporters, the party shows no sign of ending any time soon.

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