Speaking in the aftermath of Wales’ remarkable 3-1 win over Belgium, Chris Coleman found the words to sum up the mood of a nation on the brink of history. Wales, a country of 3 million, a country where rugby is king and football a very distant second, has become the smallest population to ever reach the semi-finals of the European Championship.
They are the paupers of British football; where England, Scotland and Northern Ireland have a history to speak of, be it tinged by years of disappointment, hurt and regret, Wales have none. Constantly the laughing stock they are defined by near misses, failures and rank embarrassment, while recent memories are laced with tragedy.
A narrow defeat to Yugoslavia denied them a place at the Euros in 1980, and Mike England’s side missed out on two World Cup appearances later that decade thanks to goal difference.
Eight games without a win, four victories all season and staring relegation square in the face. Nigel Pearson’s Leicester were in free fall ahead of the visit of West Ham. They sat three points adrift of QPR and seven points off 17th placed Sunderland. A dismal first campaign back in the Premier League for a decade looked doomed, before Welsh midfielder Andy King fired a winner four minutes from time at the King Power Stadium to gift the Foxes a vital three points, and a springboard for the rest of the season.
13 July 2015 – Claudio Ranieri drafted in
Pearson masterminded Leicester’s escape, but the club’s owners decided to dispense with his services to widespread bemusement. The final two months of the season had masked, however, a season where their manager had looked out of his depth. In came, to widespread incredulity, Claudio Ranieri. Not seen since guiding Greece to a disastrous home defeat by the Faroe Islands, the Italian’s appointment was largely derided. Famous for finishing second and labelled the ‘Tinkerman’ after his four-year spell in charge of Chelsea, many tipped the Italian to be a disaster.
Leicester were 5,000/1 to win the league at the start of the season, but the Loch Ness monster, alien life and an Oscar for Dean Gaffney were all more likely…
500-1 – Prime Minister Simon Cowell
The X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent supremo has never, to our knowledge, recorded an interest in switching entertainment for politics. And if he did, it would have been a more likely outcome than Claudio Ranieri getting his hands on the league title.
Not just more likely, but 10 times more likely. Ladrokes had the 56-year-old down as 500/1 to become Prime Minister.
500-1 – Loch Ness monster discovered
The fabled Scottish monster has had its existence scrutinised at every turn over the centuries. Society has come to terms with the idea that the legend is little more than that. But if its existence were to be proven, Paddy Power have it at only 500/1.
Barcelona ran into a brick wall on Wednesday as Atletico Madrid dumped the holders out of the Champions League.
A 3-2 aggregate defeat condemned Luis Enrique’s side to a quarter-final exit in their quest of retaining Europe’s flagship cup competition.
No side has ever retained the Champions League – the great AC Milan side were the last to win back-to-back European Cups in 1990 – and you’d be forgiven for thinking that if a side with Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar can’t do it then no-one can.
Chris Coleman is fine-tuning Wales’s preparations for Euro 2016 in this week’s friendlies, but he’s doing so without star player Gareth Bale.
Bale has only just returned from a lengthy injury absence, and was left out of the squad for the friendlies against Northern Ireland and Ukraine.
Coleman explained that both he and Real Madrid thought a little bit of extra rest would help the player – as well as giving him the chance to spend some time with his newborn daughter, who arrived this week.
In-depth: After Maria Sharapova admitted to failing a drugs test at the Australian Open, what future in the game awaits the 29-year-old?
Sharapova fails drugs test – the background
Maria Sharapova is said to be facing a lengthy ban from tennis after testing positive for the use of meldonium at the Australian Open in January.
In a press conference on Monday the 28-year-old admitted to taking the substance for health reasons since 2006, which only became prohibited according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at the start of the year.
Tottenham host Crystal Palace in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Sunday, sandwiched in between their Europa League last-32 tie with Fiorentina.
A credible 1-1 draw in Italy puts Spurs in the driving seat for the return leg at White Hart Lane next Thursday before the bread-and-butter of the league campaign resumes against Swansea three days later.
With the Premier League unquestionably the No 1 priority for Mauricio Pochettino after the 2-1 win at Manchester City put them above Arsenal on goal difference and behind the leaders Leicester by only two points, where do the two cup competitions lie in the manager’s thinking?
With Manchester City fighting for silverware on all four fronts this season, Manuel Pellegrini is set to take the unprecedented step of playing a weakened side in the FA Cup fifth round tie against Chelsea.
City face the Premier League champions at Stamford Bridge on Sunday before travelling to Dynamo Kiev for a Champions League Last 16 tie on Wednesday.
The schedule doesn’t let up as Pellegrini then takes his injury-hit side to face Liverpool in the final of the Capital One Cup on February 28, before a league game at Anfield on March 2.
The Chilean manager identified Sunday’s clash earlier this month as an opportunity to rotate his side, but the prospect of him naming a young side is unprecedented in his time at the club.
A 3-1 win at Manchester City made Leicester favourites for the Premier League title for the first time this season, but does the run-in favour their chances?
With Leicester now five points clear at the top of the table as the final third of the season approaches, Claudio Ranieri’s men have become the team to beat.
Instead of Jamie Vardy, it was the unlikely figure of Robert Huth who bagged the goals that fired the Foxes to their biggest win of the season yet at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
With momentum now firmly in their favour, can Leicester keep it together for the final 13 games of the most unpredictable Premier League campaign in memory? Or will the pressure of the situation derail what should be a fairly straightforward final straight? Let’s take a look at the run-in for each of the top four clubs.