wales players and fans, euro2016.jpg
Welsh players celebrate with fans after the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter final match between Wales and Belgium at Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille Metropole, France, 01 July 2016. Wales won 3-1.
Photograph: EPA/LAURENT DUBRULE

Wales' remarkable run into the Euro 2016 semi-finals may have never been possible without the late Gary Speed.

The 85-times capped Speed was Wales manager for just 11 months when he took his own life in November 2011.

But in that short time he managed to transform Welsh football, which not only allowed his successor Chris Coleman to qualify the team for the first big tournament since the 1958 World Cup but also to write an amazing success story in France.

The fans have also not forgotten, as "There’s only one Speedo" echoed around the Toulouse stadium when Wales beat Russia 3-0 to reach the knock-out stages two weeks ago.

And Speed is remembered often by the team, captain Ashley Williams and Coleman said on the eve of Wednesday's semi-final against Portugal.

"I am pretty sure he is proud of us. He is always in the back of our minds," Williams said.

Coleman, who had known Speed since the age of 10, named him "a sports icon. That#s wherethe good memories come from but I don't need Welsh football to be reminded of a friend. He could be sitting here and enjoying it."

Wales has plenty of class from the likes of Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale and Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey but it took more to bring the team this far.

"He revolutionised football for Wales; got hold of the whole structure and flipped it upside down and said, 'We will start doing it properly,’" defender Neil Taylor recently recalled.

Speed looked into every detail, from travel arrangements to training facilities and bringing in sports scientists, in order to bring the game forward in a region where rugby is the number one sport and a 2011 match against Northern Ireland drew a tiny crowd of just over 500.

“Sports science has been around for a long time, but Wales didn’t have it – that’s what he introduced, and a new way of playing – he ignited it,” Coleman said.

The Daily Telegraph said two weeks ago that the Football Association of Wales handled the situation after Speed's death well and that it "preserved Speed’s foundation but gave Coleman the space to build and develop his own style."

Coleman said it was "bittersweet" for him when he took over, having known Speed for so long.

"I was a very close friend of Gary for 30 years. I got this job for reasons no one could foresee," he said.

Coleman and the players have credited a unique team spirit for qualifying and the remarkable run in France with victories over Slovakia, Russia, Northern Ireland and highly fancied Belgium.

It was especially this last win in the quarter-finals against the Belgians that impressed, as Wales were in full command and dominated the opposition with a remarkable performance.

Now come the match against Portugal, and Wales are keeping their feet firmly on the ground, refusing to look ahead at a possible place in Sunday's final or even the title.

"The whole experience is uncharted. All we can do is never forget what it has taken to be in that position," Coleman said.

Bale said that Coleman is doing "an amazing job" which would make Speed proud.

“We are like brothers and our team spirit and character gets us through everything. I’m sure he will be looking down very happy, and hopefully we can do him proud,” Bale said.

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