Wales arrived at Euro as an eminently likeable team, having qualified for the tournament for the first time in the country’s history. Gareth Bale may be the star of the team and Joe Allen may be the most likeable man on the continent, but it’s Liverpool’s Danny Ward who turned a few heads in Wales’ Euro debut against Slovakia on Saturday when he made a surprise start after a back spasm kept goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey out of the line up.
“I knew he was struggling with his injury, but that’s what we’re trained to do,” Ward said on his inclusion in the team sheet. “You’ve got to make sure you prepare right and you’re ready when the chance comes. Whether you have a week to think about it or a couple of hours, it’s still going to be a big thing. It was a very proud moment but straight away you switch into game mode.
“It’s a big win for us. It’s important to get a good start in any tournament. The first game’s massive to lay down a marker. We made a little bit of history but we want to kick on and make some more.”
Wales currently sit top of Group B after beating Slovakia 2-1, ahead of England who currently sit second due to alphabetical order. The expanded format of the tournament and the inclusion of four of the six third place ranked teams in the first knock-out round could mean that Wales has already done enough to move on to the Round of 16. But as Ward says, they’ll want to build on their early success to ensure they make it out of their group on merit rather than luck.
Whether Ward continues to start is dependent on Hennessey’s recovery, but as a young goalkeeper in his first international tournament with the senior team, even a single start in which he acquitted himself well is a very big accomplishment.