It’s a quiet, overcast evening at the Gol Center in Newport. But his five-on-side seats and bar are full of excitement about Wales’ chances of entering the knockout stage of the European Championship.

Goalkeeper Bradley Cox, who warms up before the Man-v-Fat league that helps men lose weight, believes the Dragons could go far in the competition. “I’m just so excited because I love football,” he says, taking a break from shooting. “That’s all we talk about at work. We’re all buzzing away. “

It means a lot to these fans that Wales, almost guaranteed a place in the last 16 even if they lose to an impressive Italian team on Sunday, make a positive impression and win a lot of praise at a major tournament.

“We are overshadowed by England and most of the time we go unnoticed. But we have a great team so it’s huge for our country, ”added Cox.

Expectations seem higher than they were in 2016, when Wales surprised almost everyone by reaching the European Championship semi-finals before losing to eventual winners Portugal in the country’s biggest football match.

“We’re on tour. We’re expecting more this time around – there weren’t any expectations in 2016, ”says Grant Morgan, 31, who also plays Fat in Liga Man. “We are now at the top of the rankings. We used to be seen as an easy win. We are no longer this country. “

The center’s two managers, David Scanlon, 30, and Lee Champion, 32, show the game and host a barbecue. “There are 13 or 14 people coming. We grill and have a few drinks. A lot of Welsh flags are hoisted, ”said Scanlon, who plays in most of Wales’ home games. “I love my football.”

One of the fans who will join him will be Rob Taylor, 27. He thinks – perhaps controversially – that football might oust rugby in the affection of the Celtic land. “Rugby is massive in Wales. But you just have the feeling that football is overtaking rugby at the moment, ”he says in front of the center’s small bar, while the commentary on the England versus Scotland game fills the quiet, somewhat humid night air. He suspects that Wales could reach the last eight, but does not rule out that it is entirely possible: “Could we win? Why not?”

The center’s director Gwilym Boore is home after flying back from Azerbaijan where he saw Wales draw against Switzerland and beat Turkey with free-flowing attacking football. “That was my 101staway game,” he says on the phone from his garden. “It was euphoric. It was a thoroughly uplifting moment in a shitty year. “

Boore, 54, says that the pride of Welsh fans in their country doesn’t take the “hideous forms” sometimes seen elsewhere. “When the players took the knee, everyone clapped, not to drown out the booing because there weren’t any … but because we agreed to take the knee,” he says. “Here it is a more inclusive form of nationalism. Supporting Wales enables me to manifest my being Welsh, see the world and have fun with my pals. “

The fans were impressed by the spirit and togetherness of the team. “These are not tails,” says Boore, who has accompanied the national team for 40 years. “It’s only four words, but it’s important. They represent us and are nice people. “Boore is upset that he can’t be in Rome but is optimistic about the odds:” It’s really painful to miss the game but it will be a long time before we don’t get through. “