Hal Robson-Kanu: How ‘jobless’ Welsh striker lifted a nation

Wales in Euro 2016 quarter-final victory over Belgium

Currently without a club, Wales striker Hal Robson-Kanu placed himself squarely in the shop window with a goal of shimmering audacity in his side's Euro 2016 quarter-final victory over Belgium.

With the score 1-1 early in the second half in Lille on Friday, the 27-year-old gathered a cross from Aaron Ramsey and took three defenders out of the game with an exquisite Cruyff turn before confidently placing a shot past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

It inspired Wales to a 3-1 win that sent them into their first major semi-final, where they will face Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, and left onlookers hailing one of the greatest goals in Welsh football history.

"Hal Robson-Kanu sent Thomas Meunier for a cup of tea and a piece of toast with that turn there!" said former Wales striker John Hartson on BBC Radio 5 Live.

"If I was a chairman of a Premier League club I would be making Hal Robson-Kanu my next signing. What a goal."

Having been released by second-tier Reading when his contract expired on Thursday, Robson-Kanu's 55th-minute strike at a drizzly Stade Pierre-Mauroy completed a remarkable 24 hours.

He went into the tournament having scored only two goals for Wales, but has doubled his tally in France with two crucial strikes.

Dogged by an ankle injury in the build-up to the competition, he started Wales's first game against Slovakia on the bench, but came on to scuff home a 79th-minute winner in a 2-1 victory.

He was rested entirely for the 3-0 group-phase win over Russia and was a second-half substitute in the 1-0 last 16 defeat of Northern Ireland.

But he performed valiantly on his return to the starting XI against Belgium, going toe-to-toe with the defenders right across the Belgian back four and creating space for Gareth Bale and Ramsey to attack.

'Defender's nightmare'

"Hal, once he's in that mood where he was up for everything and anything, he's a defender's nightmare," said Wales manager Chris Coleman.

"We're delighted he got his goal. He got an injury in Portugal in the first week (of pre-tournament training) and that kept him out for a week or 10 days, so he nearly didn't make the tournament.

"He worked his socks off to get himself in a physical condition where he could compete. I thought he was awesome in his work rate tonight and I think he deserved the goal."

Born in west London, Robson-Kanu spent five years on Arsenal's books as a youngster before being released aged 15, when he joined Reading.

Barring loan spells at Southend United and Swindon Town, he has spent his entire professional career at the southeast England club, scoring 30 goals in 227 appearances, but has now decided to seek pastures new.

He represented England at youth level, but qualifies for Wales through his grandmother and was brought into the Welsh set-up in 2010 during the rebuilding process that took place under former manager John Toshack.

A key foil for team talisman Bale, the Real Madrid star, Robson-Kanu has become a cult figure among Wales fans, who honour him with the chant: "Hal! Robson! Hal Robson-Kanu!"

He described his historic goal modestly, telling a post-match press conference: "The ball's come into my feet, I managed to turn in the box and put it in the back of the net."

On his personal future, he said: "I've been at Reading for 12 years. I've given them a lot of a service and been very loyal.

"But I decided to run my contract down. I have my future in my own hands and that's where I am with that."

On Friday's evidence, he will have no shortage of suitors.

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