Gareth Bale is relishing the prospect of his home city Cardiff kicking off the Euro 2028 party.
The former Wales forward, 34, was part of the delegation in Nyon as the UK and Ireland’s bid to host the tournament was formally approved by UEFA.
Football Association of Wales chief executive Noel Mooney confirmed Cardiff’s Principality Stadium had been proposed by the bid team as the host venue for the tournament’s opening match – subject to UEFA approval – and Bale believes his country can set the tone for the rest of the event.
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“I would love to see that (Cardiff hosting the opening game). We’ve hosted the Champions League final, we did an incredible job,” the former Real Madrid star said.
“Our fans are very passionate and our country is a very passionate country. So if we were to able to get that first game, I think it would be incredible for the country.”
Bale believed the run to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 “changed the face of football” in rugby-mad Wales and believes co-hosting 2028 can attract even more young people to the sport.
Bale, whose brother-in-law is Wales rugby star Taulupe Faletau, said: “It’s not just about having the tournament, it’s what it will do for kids growing up.
“I can remember when I was younger, we used to watch the tournament in different countries.
“So to have it on your doorstep, that atmosphere, those kids are going to be watching their idols and their heroes playing and I think that will inspire the next generation even more, and leading into the future that will only create more players hopefully to be available for the national team.”
Mooney highlighted how, in his experience, the Euros had demonstrated its power to change perceptions towards football in both Wales and his native Ireland.
“I grew up in the west of Ireland and 1988 was our first European Championships. We played England and Ray Houghton scored with a header.
“That goal changed not just football but the country. It boosted the confidence of the whole nation,” Mooney recalled.
“There are papers written about the Celtic Tiger and different things, and it really did (provide a confidence boost).
“I grew up in an area where football was banned in my school. It was a British sport and we couldn’t play it.
“So when Ray scored that goal it suddenly became acceptable and admired to play football, and we saw hundreds and hundreds of football clubs, goalposts in farmers’ fields, spring up all over the country.
“Football took off. You may know the story of Liam Brady, who was kicked out of school for playing with the national team.
“I grew up in that background. So 1988 was for us the changing of a country in a very positive sense.
“I’ve been in Wales for two years and what I’ve been struck by is what 2016 has done for the country, people’s confidence, the country’s place in the world.
“Wales on the world stage is something we talk about quite a bit and what Gareth and the boys did back then changed the country.
“Rugby is the national sport but 2016 transformed Wales into a country that loves football.
“Even now as I walk down the streets in Cardiff, I’m convinced that people in Wales are thinking more about football because of what that tournament did for the country.
“For some kid out there, they could play in an Under-19 championship in Wales (in 2026) and then a senior tournament in Wales. It’s great. We don’t know their name yet but they could write their name all over Welsh sporting history.”