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Ashley Williams on Euro 2016, Hal Robson-Kanu's goal & Welsh hopes this summer

Wales made history at Euro 2016
Wales made history at Euro 2016 / Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Just by reaching Euro 2016, Wales had made history. It was the first time they had ever reached the European Championships, and even the group-stage exit that everyone was expecting wasn't going to dampen spirits.

Only that exit didn't come. Wales finished top of their group, ahead of England, cruising into the round of 16, where a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland saw Chris Coleman's minnows advance to the quarter-final, where the European dream was surely about to die at the hands of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and the rest of the Belgian giants.

90 minutes and a thumping comeback later, Wales were partying their way into the semi-final. There was a feeling of magic in the air, but most of that likely came from the boot of Hal Robson-Kanu, who Cruyff-turned his way into the history books with a ridiculous strike to put Wales ahead.

"I had the best view in the house," recalls captain and Euro 2020 BBC Sport pundit Ashley Williams, whose first-half equaliser was trumped by Robson-Kanu's moment of bliss. "I'm right behind him, halfway line, and he Cruyffs the ball and it slowed down to super slow, and I was like 'oh my god!, they've gone for it!'

"He still has to do a bit to score against [Thibaut] Courtois, and I'm like 'score!' and he took forever! It's like one of them films where everyone's like 'shoooooot!'.

"And then he scores and you absolutely lose yourself completely. I remember running back to my position and looking at the clock thinking we've scored way too early, if I had a choice I'd have scored later. We've got such a long time now to try and defend this. And then the next one when Vokesy (Sam Vokes) scored, I knew being in the middle 'we're not conceding two, not tonight'. So then we'd knew that we'd won the game."

It was the greatest night in the history of Welsh football. On top of the sheer ecstasy created by that one isolated moment, it gave a nation in mourning something to smile about for the first time since 2011, when manager Gary Speed tragically took his own life.

The European journey may have ended in the semi-finals, where Portugal picked up a 2-0 win, but nobody in Wales cared. They had done the impossible, time and time again, and Williams remembers a feeling of positivity that he had never experienced before.

"I know we've said it before but that's really it, team spirit, camaraderie, and that was built off what we'd been through," he says. "The loss of Gary Speed, just being really bad for a long time, and all of us had been together through all of that.

"It all came together at the right time. In 2016 and the qualifying campaign, the majority of us were in the Premier League, all kind of in the peak form of our careers, the timing was perfect. And then we had an unbelievable leader as well...Chris Coleman, what a manager. You ask any of that squad and they'll say he's an unbelievable guy to play for, we really enjoyed our time around the camp, he needs to get all the credit for putting all of that together.

"As captain, it was a joy because the team was such a good group of lads, we were all mates and it's not often you get that. I've played for a number of teams, and I was just fortunate I was part of that era where it literally was like meeting up...the way it goes normally is you've got your teammates everyday, and then you go to your national team and it's a little bit like '[groans] got to get through the week', but we were excited to go to international [breaks], we'd be sad leaving the camp and looking forward to the next one, like 'I'll see you again in two months'.

"That doesn't really ever happen, so we were just so tight, and I think watching it and listening to us talk about it you could see it, it was obvious the way we would be when the cameras were on was how we were when they weren't on. Everyone got a glimpse of how tight we actually were."

Will we see a repeat of the miracle this summer? Drawn in Group A alongside Italy, Turkey and first opponents Switzerland, Wales will have to be at their best from the first whistle, but Williams knows first-hand what it's like to overcome the odds.

"The main thing for me is let's not compare this squad to the 2016 squad," Williams adds. "There are some similar players, but they're different situations. Let's not put that pressure on them to say they need to go and get to the semis just because we did, because we never expected that anyway. So let them go and achieve what they're going to achieve on their own adventure for starters.

"I honestly think, similar to ourselves, that just getting there is enough. I think they've got there which is an unbelievable achievement. All I want from them is to just go and do what they've been doing through the qualifiers, which is playing with absolute freedom. They're exciting, I enjoy watching them, they get you off your seat. Don't freeze, go and do what you've been doing, it's exactly what we've been saying. They're in a very difficult group, but all the groups are difficult at this stage.

"I'd like to see them get out of the group, definitely, although I know that's a big ask for the boys but they're good enough to get out of the group. And then we're in the knockout stages, in knockout football anything can happen.

"The beauty of it from a Wales perspective is that there's no pressure on them, we're not saying 'it's a failure if they don't get to the quarter-finals'. No, if they get to the quarter-finals then what an unbelievable achievement."


Ashley Williams is a pundit for BBC Sport - where you can watch Euro 2020 this summer.

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