Norwich City legend Iwan Roberts living the dream as Wales prepare to face Belgium at Euro 2016
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016
Iwan Roberts is pinching himself to make sure he is living the Welsh dream at Euro 2016.
The Norwich City legend is in France as part of the BBC's commentary team and has followed his country's progress from dark horses to unlikely group winners and now to the verge of a place in the quarter-finals.
A star-studded Belgium team stand in their way at the tonight at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille – and Roberts believes the Welsh can continue to enjoy their Euro ride.
'They have exceeded my wildest expectations really,' said Roberts, who played 15 times for Wales.
'We will go out there in the belief that we can get to the semi-finals and if you get to the semi-finals you have a chance – even thinking that way is unbelievable - I am still pinching myself.
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'It's been a very emotional time – from the first game, which was a magnificent occasion for us all, when you had up to 20,000 Wales fans in the stadium in Bordeaux.
'And when they that national anthem gets sung it is up there with the best. I love looking and listening to the Italians and Germans, but that Wales anthem brings a tear to your eyes, a lump to my throat.'
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The Welsh Dragons will be out in force again tonight, all eyes on the superstar in their midst, Gareth Bale – but Roberts insists Wales are not a one-man team.
'He is magnificent and, yes, we have over-depended on him in an attacking sense, but defensively you look at the likes of James Chester, Ashley Williams, and Ben Davies and Joe Allen, who has been outstanding,' said Roberts.
'We know we depend a lot on Gareth for goals and assists, but defensively we have some magnificent defenders who leave nothing out there.
In a week when England football fans have been wringing their hands in a combination of disbelief, anger and frustration – and probably a few more things besides – Iwan Roberts perhaps summed up the difference between those who will leave France with their heads held high, and those who hang them in shame.
As Roy Hodgson strolls in to the sunset, followed by the not unreasonable notion that he 'lost' his players, Wales boss Chris Coleman is steeling himself for the biggest game of his career, backed by a squad that moves as one.
As Roberts says: 'They all have a great relationship. They have got character, this lot, they have got a great spirit about them, they are friends, they love being in each other's company, and they are determined – and when you have got the likes of Gareth Bale in your side you have always got a chance, haven't you?'
No conversation about the Wales football team is complete without a debate over Gareth Bale: but whether or not you think they are a one-man team, the fact is, Wales have a world-class player. England don't.
They also have a manager who has yet to be linked with the job of England manager. Is he a possible candidate? Roberts thinks not.
'I think Chris wants to try and take Wales to a World Cup. That is his burning ambition. He enjoys working with this group and they enjoy the way Chris does things,' said the former Wales international.
'After the next qualifying campaign I think he would like to give it another go at club level.
'What's happening now looks great on his CV – playing in the European Championship quarter-finals – so who knows what will happen? Hopefully we will be here for another few days yet.'
To that end, Wales must beat Belgium tonight: Roberts knows their opponents' return to form – they thumped Hungary 4-0 last time out – is somewhat untimely.
'They're starting to hit form aren't they?' said Roberts, a tad ruefully. 'They lost their first game against Italy and since then looked the side they can be on their day.
'They were my tip to win the whole thing because they have one of, if not the, most talented squads in the competition.
'If you can stop the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne from playing and stop them getting the service into Romelu Lukaku then you have a chance. We will go out there in the belief that we can get to the semi-finals, and if you get to the semi-finals you have a chance, whoever you are up against.'
'Every dog has its day and while Belgium are favourites that probably suits us; we find it hard, as we did against Northern Ireland, when we are the fancied team and we have a lot of possession we can't break teams down.
'But when we have to defend and we counter-attack we are a very good side. Underdogs? Yeh, happy with that.'