Gareth Bale accepts there will inevitably be pressure on Wales to perform when they get their Euro 2020 campaign underway against Switzerland.
Wales were beaten 2-0 by eventual winners Portugal after a stirring campaign in 2016 in which they came top of their group and defeated Belgium 3-1 in the quarter-finals. Indeed, they were the first tournament debutants to reach the semi-finals since Sweden in 1992.
Bale is one of eight survivors from that squad to make Robert Page’s selection, who begin a challenging Group A against Switzerland in Baku before facing Turkey and Italy.
Wales reached the quarter-finals in each of their previous two major tournaments, the other being the 1958 World Cup, but hopes are not quite as high for a side who averaged only 1.25 goals per game in qualifying, the joint-lowest among the 24 finalists alongside North Macedonia.
They are also facing a Switzerland side who reached the last 16 of the previous Euros and the 2018 World Cup, and who are on a five-game unbeaten run at this tournament (they were knocked out last time by Poland on penalties).
Still, Bale – Wales’ all-time top scorer with 33 goals, who finished the Premier League season with a competition-high rate of a goal every 84 minutes – does not appear overburdened by any extra pressure to perform.
33 – Gareth Bale is Wales’ all-time top scorer with 33 goals, while he also netted more than any other Welsh player in their only previous European Championships appearance (three in 2016). Catalyst. pic.twitter.com/pbKyYvQa7K
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 11, 2021
“It’s similar [to Euro 2016] coming into the tournament,” he said. “On the back of 2016 there should be expectations, but it’s a different team and a different tournament.
“We know it’s a difficult group to get out of. They are all difficult teams to play against, but we’ve got to take one game at a time.
“We are very excited to be here and one day away. I feel fine and ready to give 100 per cent for my country, as I always do.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Wales – Dan James
Bale and Aaron Ramsey remain the star names for Wales, just as they were five years ago in that famous run to the final four, but Manchester United winger James offers a little more of the unknown at this level. While he only started 11 Premier League games last season, the 23-year-old created three chances and provided a fine assist for Anthony Elanga against Wolves on the final day, all from the wide-left position he tends to adopt for his country.
James also scored Wales’ most recent goal, securing a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic in World Cup qualifying in March.
Switzerland – Xherdan Shaqiri
Unhappy with his playing time at Liverpool, the Euros represent a good chance for Shaqiri either to convince Jurgen Klopp of his worth or to secure a transfer elsewhere.
With five goals and two assists, Shaqiri has been directly involved in 47 per cent of Switzerland’s goals at major tournaments since the 2014 World Cup and is just nine caps short of becoming the fifth player to win 100 for the Nati. Born in Gjilan to Kosovar Albanian parents, the 29-year-old is the beating heart of a polyglot squad of great ethnic diversity, and one then befits a tournament being staged right across the continent.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– This is the first meeting between Wales and Switzerland at a major tournament (World Cup and European Championship). In all competitions including friendlies, Switzerland have won five of their seven encounters (L2) but their last meeting in October 2011 ended in a Wales victory (2-0 at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium in Euro 2012 qualfying).
– Switzerland have scored more than one goal in only one of their 13 games at the European Championship, a 2-0 win on home soil against Portugal in the 2008 group stages.
– Gareth Bale has scored in each of his two previous appearances against Switzerland (two goals in two games).
– Aaron Ramsey was directly involved in 50 per cent of Wales’ goals in their last major tournament at Euro 2016, scoring one and assisting a further four.
– Vladimir Petkovic – in charge since August 2014 – is only the second coach to lead Switzerland at three consecutive major tournaments, after Kobi Kuhn (Euro 2004, World Cup 2006, Euro 2008).
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