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Euro 2016: Aaron Ramsey says it is 'about time' Wales beat England

Victory for Wales and the Arsenal midfielder would represent a high point on their respective journeys

Jack Pitt-Brooke
Tuesday 14 June 2016 22:47 BST
Aaron Ramsey ahead of Wales' game with England
Aaron Ramsey ahead of Wales' game with England (Getty)

Aaron Ramsey made his Wales debut almost eight years ago, and began his brief spell as captain over five years ago. His international career, like his club career, has been long enough and varied enough already, in terms of highs and lows, that he speaks with the authority of a player older than 25. And it all feels as it was building up to him taking the field for Wales in Lens on Thursday

Ramsey has won two FA Cup finals, and played in the business end of the Champions League, but this game against England is the biggest game of all. One point will ensure Wales’ passage into the last-16 of Euro 2016, a historic achievement given that this is their first tournament since 1958. Three points would set Wales up to win the group, meaning an easy knock-out match and a very good shot at the quarter-finals. It would also, for what it is worth, put another dent in the English campaign.

That is why Ramsey, speaking at the converted leisure centre in Dinard where Wales conduct their media duties, described this as a “massive game” in his own life, on a par with his biggest Arsenal matches. There is a real sense, not just for Ramsey but for the whole of this Welsh team, that they have been on a journey together and that this is the highest point yet. One more result and they can look forward to even more experiences when the tournament finally becomes a knock-out next weekend.

“We have been through a lot over the years, we’ve been together through thick and thin,” Ramsey said. “We are seeing the rewards of that. Of course, we have had some really low points and now we are experiencing some fantastic moments. We have been through so much, and it has made us stronger as a unit. Everybody knows their roles and responsibilities, we give everything and leave nothing out there.”

Ramsey made his debut in November 2008, aged 17, when John Toshack was still manager. He had only just joined Arsenal then but he impressed in the next three seasons and in early 2011 he was appointed captain by Gary Speed. He wore the arm-band at the age of 20 the last times Wales played in England, in two qualifiers for Euro 2012. Wales lost 2-0 in Cardiff before losing 1-0 at Wembley in September 2011, but they should have left with something. Ramsey now looks back on that as an important moment in their development, which they are still benefiting from.

 Ramsey during Wales' opening win

“Being captain was a nice moment, a proud moment,” Ramsey said. “We were on the wrong end of the scoreline but it was quite early on in the changes that Gary Speed was making. You could see the way we wanted to go about things. That was the start of something.”

“The other game we played well at Wembley and showed the progression we'd made in a short space of time. We were quite unlucky not to get something out of that game, I thought. Robert Earnshaw had a great chance, and there were encouraging signs.”

Those encouraging signs eventually blossomed in their most recent campaign under Chris Coleman. When Wales took the field in Bordeaux on Saturday they did so a canny, experienced side, one with the nous to stay in the game when Slovakia were on top and then to eventually nick it 2-1.

“You learn these things over the years,” Ramsey explained. “A few years ago we may have got punished and come out on the wrong end of the scoreline. We did have a tough spell in the second half when they scored but we stuck together and went on to win the game. That's the sign of a good team.”

Chris Coleman has urged Wales fans without tickets to the England match not to travel to Lens (Getty)

England, of course, could not close out the game against Russia later on Saturday evening and Wales can go into Thursday knowing that they may never have a better chance – or a more important one – to beat their neighbours.

“Hopefully we can do that,” said Ramsey. “It has been a long time since we beat them. It's about time we changed that and hopefully we can do it.”

After all of Wales’ recent achievements, this would be the next one on the list. “We've ticked off a few things along the way and we've closed the gap,” he said. “Hopefully we can show that on the big stage and that we can match them then go on and better them.”

Joe Ledley has enjoyed a dramatic journey of his own recently, one which allowed him to make a surprising return from injury against Slovakia and could see him start against England. Ledley broke his leg on 7 May, five and a half weeks ago, forcing him to miss the FA Cup final. He was not expected to make the Euros, and he cried on hearing the diagnosis. But here he is, and was on the pitch when Wales turned the game in Bordeaux.

“It was a lot of hard work off the pitch and with the physio and with the staff, long days and long training sessions,” Ledley said. He used an oxygen chamber at the training ground, and put his leg in an Exogen machine at home to help generate new bone cells quickly. Within a week he was back on the exercise bike and treadmill, and he puts the turnaround down to modern science and positive thinking. Which, combined, got him onto the field against all expectations on Saturday.

“It was like playing football in school again,” Ledley remembered. “I was excited to be out there and emotional. Everything was going through my head and then I had to be out there and play football again. I have been through a lot and it was great to be on that pitch and start passing the ball and start playing with the team. It was one of the best feelings ever.”

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