In a classic example of Welsh affairs always being out of our own hands, our Euro 2016 chances are going to be determined by two Spanish clubs playing a match in Italy. Gareth Bale plays in the Champions League Final for Real Madrid against Atlético Madrid in Milano on Saturday, the pinnacle and climax of the continent-wide club season and the last club game* before the 24 international squads gather in France for Euro 2016. So, right to the very last kick of the season, there is a chance that Bale might get an injury that would effectively shatter Welsh hopes before our first tournament for 58 years has even begun.
A few other countries will be watching their men anxiously: Spain, of course, and also Portugal (Ronaldo, Real), Germany (Kroos, Real), Croatia (Modric, Real) and France (Griezmann, Atlético), but none will be praying to whatever soccer gods there be quite like us powerless Welsh, simply because no other country has a single-player dependency remotely approaching Wales’ absolute dependency on Bale. Being a natural born pessimist I have been experiencing uneasy feelings of mounting dread as Saturday 7.45pm looms – or it could be that inadvisable black olive tapenade disagreeing with me. Since these are all-too-familiar situations for a Welshman, I’ve learned a trusty tactic over the years in order to fox fate, con kismet and discombobulate destiny. I expect, prepare and fully brace myself for the worst case scenario (in this case, something along the lines of Gareth’s Alice band dislodging in the 94th minute and blinding him in both eyes). This strategy means I win whatever happens. If he’s crocked out of the tournament I can say I Told You So and wallow smugly in a world view yet again confirmed. Alternatively, if he’s unscathed, I can rush to Ladbrokes and put £10 on Wales at odds of 60-1 lifting the Henri Delaunay Trophy in the Stade de France on July 10th. The £600 winnings will be really handy too: I’ll be able to upgrade my cardboard box and line it with quality bed-straw. Bring it on lady luck!
The 61st European Cup/Champions League Final promises to be a belter. It’s the 6th to feature two teams from the same nation and only the 2nd to feature two from the same city (the previous being just about within living memory: Real 4 Atlético 1 in 2014, Bale scored), so has all the added spice of an authentically acrimonious local derby. The Madrid derby is one of world football’s most ferociously partisan and emotional clashes, right up there with Celtic-Rangers, Olympiakos-Panathinaikos, Arsenal-Spurs, Boca Juniors-River Plate, Millwall-West Ham, Lazio-Roma, Juventus-Torino, Fenerbahçe-Galatasaray and Caernarfon-Druids, and normally I would walk over hot coals to see such a game, but there’s far too much riding on this one for it to endurable. Disengaging works for me and might give Gareth a guardian angel in the San Siro, he said with casual omniscience. Looks like I’m facing another night on Splott beach; out of reach and off my head, howling incantations at an indifferent old moon.
Even the Welsh League might have managed to complete its fixtures by Saturday – assuming there’s no drizzle in Panteg this afternoon.