The Wales soccer team is more Welsh than I imagined it would be.
I decided to have a look, after watching the rousing 3-1 victory over Belgium tonight that puts Wales in the semifinals of the European Championships being played here in France.
Seems like a team good enough to beat Belgium’s all-star side might need help from outside the country’s borders — taking into account Wales’s population of barely 3 million.
And, it must be noted all three Wales goals in the Belgium game were scored by players born in neighboring England.
End of the day, Wales has fewer borrowed players than does the U.S., which has a particularly German look and sound during the Jurgen Klinsmann regime.
Plus, the Englishmen who converted to Welsh nationality, for the sake of soccer, at least speak the same mother tongue as do their Welsh-born teammates. Can’t say that for all the German-Americans Klinsmann recruited to the U.S. national team.
To turn out for a non-native Fifa national side, a player needs to have at least one grandparent born in that country; the player himself need not be born in the country of the team for whom he will play.
So. Here are the numbers on the 14 players who played in the historic victory over world-ranked-No. 2 Belgium:
–Nine of the 14 were born in Wales. Including perhaps the greatest Welsh player, Gareth Bale (unless you prefer Ryan Giggs), and probably the second- and third-most important players in the lineup, midfielder Aaron Ramsey and goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy.
–Of the five born in England, one joined Wales through his mother (defender James Chester), and four became Welsh — Ashley Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu, Sam Vokes, Andy King — through a grandparent who was born there.
–Of the 14 who played, 11 played for Wales at the age-group level, which hammers home their Welshness, in soccer terms.
–Two joined Wales at the senior level. Williams, who scored the first goal, and Chester did not play internationally at the age-group level.
–One player did the Jurgen Shuffle, changing his allegiance to Wales because it was becoming clear he was not going to make it internationally in the country of his birth. Robson-Kanu appeared a few times for England at the Under 19 and U20 levels before becoming Welsh on the U21 level. Tonight, he scored the memorable goal, amidst three Belgium defenders, that put Wales ahead.
–Thirteen of the 14 players turn out for clubs in the English Football Association, 10 of them for sides in the Premier League — three of them (Williams, Neil Taylor, Ben Davies) for Wales-based Swansea City) and two (Hennessey and Joe Ledford) for Crystal Palace.
Ramsey (at Arsenal) and Joe Allen (at Liverpool) play for the biggest English sides; Andy King plays for champions Leicester City.
–The 14th player is Bale, who plays for (ahem) Champions League victor Real Madrid.
–Bale is about as Welsh as a player can be; born there, played in school there. He disappeared over to Southampton’s academy, but he began playing with the Wales national team at the U17 level.
–Seven of the 14 players joined Wales at the U17 level — Chris Gunter, Allen, Ledley, Taylor, Hennessy, Ramsey and Bale.
–Three more joined Wales at the U19 level — James Collins, King, Davies. Robson-Kanu, arrived as a U21.
Whatever their origins, these players constitute a functioning team, where group goals are more significant than individual glory.
This is Wales’s first European Championship team, and now that they are in the semifinals, against Portugal, there is plenty of glory to go around.