Wales aim for new Euros highs

Venue: Baku Olympic Stadium Date: Saturday, 12 June Kick-off: 14:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC One and S4C, reside commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru, the BBC Sport web site and app, plus reside textual content and rating updates

It was the second a nation had dreamed of for 58 years. As the solar shone in Bordeaux on 11 June 2016, Wales had lastly arrived.

Absent from main finals because the 1958 World Cup, Wales had endured a barren, usually painful, half a century earlier than their opening match of Euro 2016 towards Slovakia.

Five years and sooner or later on, they start their Euro 2020 marketing campaign towards Switzerland in Baku on Saturday. This might be totally different, however the reminiscences of that afternoon in France will come flooding again.

It was wonderful, the realisation of what had appeared a hopeless dream – catharsis for the 24,000 Welsh followers who had travelled to Bordeaux to kind the Red Wall and pour their souls into the nationwide anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.

This time, they’re prone to journey to Azerbaijan of their a whole lot moderately than their 1000’s. The pandemic means the Football Association of Wales and Welsh authorities have suggested supporters to not journey, although there’ll nonetheless be these undeterred by the prices and quarantines and decided to succeed in this transcontinental match’s jap outpost.

Those who make the journey will do all they’ll to assist Wales’ gamers harness the emotion of the event, although some might be seeking to keep a little bit cooler than they have been in Bordeaux.

“I was one of the people who probably got carried away. It was hard not to,” says midfielder Jonny Williams, who began towards Slovakia and is considered one of eight Wales gamers from Euro 2016 who stay within the squad for this 12 months’s match.

“The whole day, the team meeting beforehand when we were shown messages from family, saying how proud they were. When we left the hotel, there were fans everywhere and you could see how much it meant to everyone that we were just there.”

The lengthy build-up, the heightened anticipation and a stirring nationwide anthem had the Wales gamers in a frenzy by kick-off and, with simply three minutes gone, it appeared as if their long-awaited return can be derailed earlier than it had begun in earnest.

Slovakia’s Marek Hamsik weaved his method by means of flailing Welsh defenders and was able to have fun after capturing into what appeared an open web – till Ben Davies appeared from nowhere with a goal-saving block.

Ben Davies joined Tottenham Hotspur in a swap deal that took Gylfi Sigurdsson to Swansea City

“It was an important moment but there was a lot that went on after that,” says the Tottenham defender, one other who stays within the Wales squad 5 years on.

“That was just a small factor in what got us to where we did in that tournament. That’s football – everybody is expected to step up at some point and at that moment I did.

“Honestly, in these moments as a defender it is is your job. You are there to cease it and that is what I did.”

Davies’ modesty should not obscure the significance of his intervention. Wales settled after that early scare, beat Slovakia 2-1 and embarked on a spectacular campaign in which they confounded all expectations to reach their first semi-final.

That summer changed Welsh football forever. Five years on, this is a different Wales side.

“This time round there may be loads of pleasure and much more expectation I might say, however we’re prepared for it,” says Davies.

“It’s going to be emotional – it must be at this degree. You play with loads of pleasure loads of emotion taking part in for your nation.

“I don’t think there is ever a time really in football when you are playing for your country that you can be too emotional.”

Williams, nonetheless, might be making an attempt to include his pleasure.

“I’m a bit more chilled this time,” he says. “I feel a bit more relaxed.”

A story of two ‘golden generations’

By reaching the semi-finals at Euro 2016, Wales’ gamers lastly lived as much as the tag beneath which they’d been labouring for years – the golden era.

Some in Wales had been desperate to bestow that moniker on them earlier than even qualifying for the match, such was the thrill about gamers akin to Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Ashley Williams all reaching their peak collectively.

And whereas use of the time period was initially untimely, there could be little doubt now that the 2016 aspect are the best in Welsh historical past.

In their first match at Euro 2020 on Saturday, Wales face a Swiss group who’ve struggled with the same billing of their homeland.

After profitable the 2009 Under-17 World Cup and ending as runners-up on the 2011 Under-21 European Championship, Switzerland had hoped to be flourishing in senior tournaments by now.

Current captain and Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka featured in each these groups, whereas Liverpool playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri and Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer are among the many many members of this Euro 2020 squad who performed for the under-21s in 2011.

Despite qualifying for seven of the previous eight senior finals – one as co-hosts of Euro 2008 – Switzerland have didn’t transcend the second spherical, and persistence is carrying skinny.

“There is a ‘do it now’ mentality because Sommer, Xhaka, Shaqiri and others are in their prime or slightly past it, so this is their time to deliver,” says Nicola Martinetti, a journalist for Swiss newspaper Corriere del Ticino.

“There was a big expectation on this generation and they haven’t delivered yet.

“I feel followers and everybody across the group would see it as an enormous disappointment if they do not make it out of the group stage.”

External expectations may not be so burdensome for Wales. Having been pitted against Switzerland, Turkey and Italy, simply getting out of the group would be considered a success by many supporters and pundits.

Inside the squad, however, it is a different story, with players setting the second round as a minimum target.

“What we did final time, no person ever anticipated us to try this, so some folks is likely to be anticipating the same type of factor once more,” says Ramsey.

“We have expectations on ourselves however we’ll take it one recreation at a time and see if we are able to recreate one thing comparable.

“We’re hungry for success again.”

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