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Euro 2016: Dark days are over as Wales celebrate first ever semi-final

Football Soccer - Wales v Belgium - EURO 2016 - Quarter Final - Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille, France - 1/7/16 Wales' Aaron Ramsey, Wayne Hennessey, Gareth Bale and Joe Ledley celebrate at full time REUTERS/John Sibley Livepic
Football Soccer - Wales v Belgium - EURO 2016 - Quarter Final - Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille, France - 1/7/16Wales' Aaron Ramsey, Wayne Hennessey, Gareth Bale and Joe Ledley celebrate at full timeREUTERS/John SibleyLivepic

By Toby Davis

(Reuters) - Amid the celebrations and euphoria of reaching their first major tournament semi-final, Wales coach Chris Coleman was quick to recall the dark days at the start of his managerial reign.

Friday's ruthless 3-1 victory over a heavily-fancied Belgium team propelled Wales into the last four of Euro 2016, capping a dramatic return to the main international main stage after 58 years of missing out on a big tournamemt.

Fans partied long into the night, at home in Wales and in the streets of Lille, revelling in what commentators called the greatest feat in Welsh soccer history.

Four years ago, however, victories of any sort were much harder to come by.

In fact, after Coleman succeeded the late Gary Speed as Wales coach in 2012, Wales lost their first five matches, a dismal run that included a 6-1 thrashing by Serbia which prompted the manager to consider his future.

"The position we find ourselves in now is incredible, because four years ago we were as far away from it as it is possible to be," said Coleman, whose side were ranked as low as 117th in 2011.

“This is uncharted territory for us, we have never been here before, but all I can do is keep reminding the players never to forget where they came from and what we had to do to get here."

Coleman's first victory as Wales boss came against Scotland in October 2012, a 2-1 win delivered courtesy of two goals from Gareth Bale.

While they missed out on qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a draw away to Friday's opponents Belgium in that campaign proved there were solid foundations on which Coleman could build.

They lost only one game in qualifying for this year's Euros, taking four points off Belgium in the process, and have not looked back since arriving in France.

They have become the first team to reach the semi-final on their European Championship debut since Sweden in 1992 and have scored 10 goals along the way.

Only once has a British team scored more at a major tournament and that was England (11) when they won the World Cup in 1966.

Wales's stunning performance has propelled Coleman, whose managerial career has included spells at Fulham, Real Sociedad, Coventry City and Greek side Larissa, to the status of national hero.

In a country where soccer is usually overshadowed by rugby union, the victory has allowed Wales's supporters, who have had very little to celebrate over the previous 58 years, to dare to dream.

"If you work hard enough and you're not afraid to dream then you're not afraid to fail," Coleman said.

"I'm not afraid to fail. Everybody fails. I have had more failures than I've had success."

There was one downside to Friday's famous victory in that inspirational midfielder Aaron Ramsey and defender Ben Davies picked up bookings that will rule them out of Wednesday's semi-final against Portugal in Lyon.

“I’m gutted for them both,” Coleman said. “Aaron and Ben both took one for the team. They are big losses for us but they can be very proud of their contributions.”

(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by xxx)

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