PARIS – These European Championships are emerging as the tournament of the underdog, so when two of them met on a nervous Parisian Saturday something had to give.
In the end it was Wales, with a dash of star power to supplement its workmanlike ethos, that prevailed over Northern Ireland, 1-0 at the Parc de Princes to book a spot in the quarterfinals.
Wales captain Gareth Bale became the world’s most expensive player when he joined Real Madrid three summers ago but still knows how to scrap like a pauper when he needs to.
The 26-year-old midfielder is the talisman for a squad far less credentialed than their on-field leader but mightily motivated to make up for lost time. The goal was scrappy and ugly, a fine Bale cross turned accidentally into the net by Northern Ireland defender Gareth McAuley after 74 minutes, but Wales cared solely for the outcome and nothing for the means.
Because Wales, you see, has suffered in soccer’s doldrums for generations and is celebrating busting the slump with the party of all parties here in…