Euro 2020: Why this Wales side can write their own success story – Williams

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The first thing I’d tell the Wales squad before this European Championship is, whatever happens, please don’t compare it to what we did in France in 2016.

By that, I mean they don’t have to reach the semi-finals again for it to rank as an achievement.

Looking back at what we did is no way to view this tournament, because that was a one-off and has no bearing on what will happen this time.

You can’t try to recreate Euro 2016 because this is a different group of players – there are only eight survivors from the squad of five years ago – but they can write their own success story.

‘Rodon has a big part to play at the back’

When I think about our young players who can make a big impression over the next few weeks, one name springs to mind immediately – Joe Rodon.

I didn’t feature very much in our qualifying campaign to get here but I still took a lot of pride in how strong Wales were at the back, and Joe played a big part in that.

He’s 23 now but I’ve known him since he was 15, when he first started training with the Swansea first team, and we’ve always been close. I feel like we are similar types of player.

All the boys who have come into our defence over the past few years – Chris Mepham, James Lawrence, Tom Lockyer and Ben Cabango – have done really well.

But I look at Joe as our number one, not only because I have known him the longest, but because I love the way he plays.

His block in our last competitive game, our World Cup qualifying win over the Czech Republic in March, is the perfect example of that.

In the last few minutes, Joe threw himself in front of the ball to prevent a certain equaliser and that is what excites me – and gets me up off the sofa these days. It’s as good as a goal, basically.

When you are solid in defence, you always have a chance in a game and we look really strong there, including our full-backs. It’s one of the reasons I am feeling confident about the next few weeks.

‘We know we belong at this level now’

I was Wales captain going into the last Euros, and the beauty of it was that just being there was enough.

We could have lost all three group games and it wouldn’t have mattered to the fans – they were just happy to finally see their country perform on that stage for the first time since 1958. That took the pressure off us, and we could just go and play.

Within the camp, we felt a similar way. At first, we were just happy to be there, if I’m being honest, but then as the tournament progressed, and we stayed in it, our outlook changed. We grew in confidence and we wanted more.

Ashley Williams
Williams scored the first goal in Wales’ famous 3-1 win over Belgium in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016

This time, we have the benefit of that experience. We can still play with freedom, but with the knowledge we belong at this level.

Players such as Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies and Joe Allen, who went to France last time, have not just played at a major finals, they have had a really successful time there.

Off the pitch, it is the same – we are ready. When we went to France, the Football Association of Wales went into the unknown. Logistically, everything was new.

Now they know what works and what doesn’t, right down to the last detail, which will be a massive help to the group of young players we have got now, who are in this situation for the first time.

Those senior players have got a big role to play in guiding them, but I think we have got stacks of character right through the squad and coaching team.

Graphic showing Wales play Switzerland, Turkey and Italy in Group A

The managerial situation has been sorted, with Robert Page taking charge for the tournament and he looks like a man with authority – just like he was when I was in Wales camps with him as a player.

This team is his now, so between him and the names I have mentioned, we will have no shortage of leadership and that is already shining through.

Every time I see us play, I see something I like in our performance even if the result has not gone our way.

This Wales team plays without fear, and I don’t fear for them – we are in a very difficult group alongside Italy, Switzerland and Turkey, which is probably the hardest after Group F, which contains France, Portugal, Germany and Hungary. But I still believe we will make it into the last 16.

Ashley Williams was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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