The smile as wide as the Severn Bridge, along with the enthusiastic pre-match mantra which had encapsulated Brian Flynn's breezy arrival as interim Wales manager, was missing.
Deep down, Flynn knew the first leg of his two-game trial for the full-time job he craves had taken a hefty blow on Friday night.
There was to be no fairytale for the small man of Welsh football who wants the big job. Normally the most jovial of characters, the likeable 5ft 3in Flynn was strugglingto lift himself.
He may not be the high-profile manager some Welsh fans want, but Flynn knew the position was there for the taking. Instead, after a 1-0 defeat by Bulgaria, Welsh football faces up to a doomed Euro 2012 campaign which appears over before it really ever got going.
England were always favourites for the top spot in Group G, but after targeting second place, Wales now simply have pride to play for.
"It leaves it very difficult for us now to get second place," said the Aston Villa defender James Collins. "You can't expect to lose your two first games and qualify. Brian's disappointed, as he wants to do well in these two games like we all do.
"Training has been superb all week. We tried to play the way he wanted to play but we've got to sustain it for the whole game. We started well, then faded, and they've come here and done a job on us.
"Some of the young boys here haven't been involved in something like this so they will have to lift themselves now for the game in Switzerland on Tuesday."
This was meant to herald a new dawn for Welsh football, with a country desperate to end a 52-year-wait to reach a major finals, but the rows of empty seats – with just 14,000 at the Cardiff City Stadium – told their own depressing story.
It showed that a new manager cannot simply wave a magic wand over a struggling nation. Flynn won his promotion to the senior set-up having polished some gems with the Wales Under-21 side. The jewel in the crown, the injured Aaron Ramsey, remains sorely missed.
To Flynn's cost, he discovering that playing young men against seasoned, streetwise internationalplayers is another thing altogether.It was Ivelin Popov's 48th-minute winner that condemned a Wales side over-reliant on the long ball to defeat. It could and should have been worse against a country who can also count themselves all but out of the equation.
Chris Gunter's red card in added time only compounded the misery for Wales as the struggling full-back, who should have given Wales an early lead, became the first Welshman to be dismissed since Robbie Savage six years ago. Savage, who is closing on 36, still wants to play for Wales. He won't and he certainly shouldn't. Instead it's up to the likes of Swansea's highlyrated defender Ashley Williams to lead the way forward.
"I don't think it's a case of letting Brian down, we've let everyone involved down," said Williams, the stand-in captain. "We would have liked to have got the win for him but we couldn't. We set up a bit differently, we'd worked on it all week and it suited the players – but for some reason it didn't come off." An all-too-familiar tale of woe for Welsh fans if there ever was one.Reuse content