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The Big Interview - Ben Davies

Posted on 6 July 2016  - 12:55

Ben Davies could see light at the end of the tunnel this time last year.

A man on a mission last summer...Ben celebrates Gareth Bale's goal against SlovakiaA huge moment - Ben clears off the line against Slovakia

While it's fair to say most players dread the early days of pre-season training, Ben was relishing the prospect of the hard graft building up to the 2015-16 season.

The reason? As most of the squad enjoyed a summer break, he'd swapped the beach for Hotspur Way to recover from a nasty shoulder injury sustained at Southampton on April 25, 2015.

He recovered superbly, started the opener at Old Trafford and played seven of the first eight matches of our Premier League campaign, the start of a season-long duel with Danny Rose for left-back that both players agree pushed their games to another level.

But little did he know then that a year on, he'd be part of a sporting dream.

In October, Ben helped Wales qualify for their first major tournament since 1958 and he has played every game as they have created history in France.

He was at his absolute best as Wales produced one of the greatest performances in their history to beat Belgium 3-1 and reach the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time.

Yet as we all know, Ben had to battle any personal demons after picking up a yellow card just five minutes into that famous win in Lille. That was his second caution of the tournament and ruled him out of this evening's semi-final against Portugal.

We highlighted what Ben had to say about the yellow card yesterday and here is the interview in full - exclusively from France - with a man who began pre-season training for 2015-16 on July 3, 2015 and would love to extend it for just a few more days...

Those painful days last summer must seem worth it now...
Ben: "Yes, I was in throughout the summer last year, a lot of time on my own, working hard to get my shoulder right, and now I’ve played all the way through to this summer. Early last summer, I couldn’t play (in Wales' qualifiers in June) because of my injury, this year has worked out quite well!"

Below: Ben in pre-season on July3 last year

july3_ben_730b

Okay, let's get the bad news out of the way - the yellow card and suspension. How tough is it to miss out?
Ben: "It’s obviously disappointing not to be involved. Two yellows in five games seems a bit harsh but I have to take it now. That’s football. That’s life. Hopefully the boys will do the job."

Your team-mates have stated they want to win it for you and Aaron Ramsey, who is also suspended. Have those words helped at all?
Ben: "I’ve heard that a few times from the boys this week and it’s nice that we’ve got that feeling in the squad. That’s how I felt when I got the yellow card, just determined to get the team through to the semi-final. That’s the mentality we’ve got in the squad at the moment."

What did you think when the card went up?
Ben: "I didn’t dwell on it too much to be honest. Like I said, my full focus was on trying to win the game and getting through to the next round."

You also won praise from pundits for the way you performed after that personal blow...
Ben: "That’s good to hear. It’s not something I’ve thought too much about. For me, it was about doing my job whether or not I was in that situation. We played well against Belgium and deserved to go through. To play like that against a team like Belgium, with the quality they have throughout their team, was one of the best performances I’ve been involved in."

Below: That moment - Ben's second yellow card of Euro 2016 against Belgium

ben_bel730a

You must have been distraught there for a second though...
Ben: "I know what you are saying, but I just thought ‘forget about it’ and got on with it. You have to be mentally strong and wipe these things out."

Was there a moment afterwards when it sunk in?
Ben: "Yes, I suppose. There was a thought in my mind that I’d miss the next game but getting the team to the semi-final made up for it."

Back to the game, what a performance especially after going 1-0 down...
Ben: "Belgium came out flying and we had to defend well to keep them out. The goal they scored was just quality - when someone hammers it in the top corner from 30 yards you can’t do too much about it. We showed guts to get on the ball and pass it around against a team like Belgium and once we got back to 1-1 we all felt there was no reason why we couldn’t push on and win it. The goal from Hal Robson-Kanu showed the quality we have and it was a great time for Sam Vokes to score the third goal (85 minutes), that lifted a lot of the pressure."

How emotional was it when you heard the final whistle?
Ben: "Yes, I was a bit emotional, to be fair. It was a proud feeling to take our country through to the semi-finals. No-one gave us a chance to go this far. It was still quite surreal out there at that time. It wasn’t until we got back to the changing room and sat down that we all realised that we’d made it through to the last four of a major tournament."

Below: Joy on the final whistle against Belgium (Ben is number 4)

ben_bel730b

Did you see any of the Spurs lads (Toby Alderweireld, Mousa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen) playing for Belgium?
Ben: "I saw Jan after the whistle and it was nice to have a chat with him. The Belgian boys were very complimentary and said they hoped we’d get to the final. It was good to see the lads and nice for them to say that."

There was so much emotion from Welsh legends and pundits during and after the game. Are you aware of that?
Ben: "Yes, we are aware of it all. I read what Mike England said on the club’s website. We never thought we’d emulate what Cliff Jones and the squad of 1958 did (reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup) and to do that is special, but that doesn’t mean those players are suddenly forgotten about, it’s more about carrying on what they started. It’s taken a long time for us to get here but we’re doing our country proud and that means a lot."

How are you enjoying the tournament as a whole?
Ben: "We’ve been away five weeks now including the pre-tournament training camp. It’s been a long one! The season hasn’t finished for us yet and it looks like we’ll be straight into next season! But I wouldn’t change it for the world. We’ve played well as a team for a while now and when you play with team-mates like this...we’re all like brothers here, it’s such a good atmosphere and everyone gives everything for the cause. We all know our roles and responsibilities to perfection and that’s what has got us this far. We’re up against some of the best players in the world and to do as well as we are is something very special. We’re putting the performances together and showing that we absolutely deserve to be here."

Below: Raw emotion after beating Northern Ireland in the last 16

ben_wal_nir_instory

Onto the semi-final, can you imagine what it's going to be like for you to watch the game?
Ben: "Yes - it’s going to be horrible! I’ll probably be more nervous than I would be if I was playing. It will be tense and nervy and I just hope the lads do it."

How do you think the game will go against Portugal?
Ben: "Portugal haven't lost yet and are in the semi-finals, so they can’t be doing too much wrong! Hopefully we’ll put in a similar performance as we did against Belgium, we’ve done our research and hopefully it will pay off."

A lot of pundits are putting you up as favourites...
Ben: "That’s not a situation we’re used to! For us, it’s little Wales against the world. We’ll go into it ready to scrap, ready to give everything and we’ll see where it takes us."

Can you put into words what it's like to be out there at the moment?
Ben: "It hasn't fazed us one bit because we’ve all had such a great time out here, all together as friends. It’s just felt like that. It’s been superb and I've loved every minute. We’ve all had a great time and let’s hope it doesn’t come to an end."

One last thought - what would it be like to get to the final?
Ben: "Now that really would be dreamland. I could have one more game to play this season! We’ll see..."