Aaron Ramsey holds a unique Cymru record in that he is the only player in the history of the national team to score in the finals of two major tournaments.
The Juventus midfielder scored his latest goal for his country in the 2-0 group stage victory over Turkey in Baku last month, repeating the achievement of scoring in the 3-0 win over Russia in Toulouse at EURO 2016. However, despite successfully making it through the group stage, Cymru's journey at EURO 2020 would come to an end against Denmark in Amsterdam.
Although injuries have restricted Ramsey's international involvement over the last couple of years, the influential star started all four games for Cymru at EURO 2020. In 2016, the only game that Ramsey missed was the semi-final against Portugal through suspension, but his overall contribution was recognised when he was named in the UEFA team of the tournament with a goal and four assists in his five games.
Picking up a second yellow card in the famous quarter-final win over Belgium in Lille, Ramsey's suspension proved significant as eventual champions Portugal booked their place in the final at the expense of Chris Coleman's side. EURO 2020 offered the chance of redemption for Ramsey, but Cymru could not emulate what they achieved in France.
“I’ll always wonder what would have happened had we had him for the semi-final,” said Coleman in 2017. “I know how good he is and how good he was in the tournament. Under that type of pressure against that type of opposition he was absolutely magnificent. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever worked with and I’ve worked with some good ones. When you take that type of quality out of any team then you are going to feel it.”
It was Ramsey who secured Cymru's place at EURO 2020 as he scored both goals against Hungary in Cardiff back in November 2019, making his only start of the qualifying campaign in the decisive match. Handed his international debut under John Toshack at the age of just 17 in 2008, Ramsey has now scored 17 goals from 67 appearances, and has experienced the highs and lows of representing his country during the course of his international career.
There was a huge anticipation and level of excitement surrounding Ramsey as he was fast-tracked through the intermediate teams, and he showed his potential as Brian Flynn's side came close to qualifying for the U21 finals in 2009 but were denied in a play-off against England. Once that campaign came to a close, Ramsey would establish himself as a senior international before a horrific leg break in February 2010 brought an enforced period out of the game.
The late Gary Speed made Ramsey the youngest-ever captain in the history of the national team when he handed him the armband as a 20-year old, and he has been a consistent performer for Cymru since that time, taking on the responsibility that comes with his status in the team and leading by example as a player for the big occasion.
“Aaron is going to have quiet games and great games because he’s a great player,” explained Speed in 2011. “But the reasoning behind it (captaincy) was for the future of the team and I think it was the right decision. It wasn’t to put any extra pressure on him because I just want him to go out and play, but when we are in a position to compete in two years time I think Aaron will benefit from the experience he’s getting now.”
In the history of the national team, there are few better players who have represented Cymru than Ramsey. From his ability on the ball to his football intelligence, the versatile midfielder has the ability to create and exploit space in the final third. Bringing the best out of those around him, he has been a central figure and a catalyst to the successful moments that will ultimately define his international career.
Born in Caerphilly, Ramsey is a proud Welshman, and his commitment to his country makes that incredible summer of 2016 all the more sweeter. “We still talk about it when we meet up,” said Ramsey recently. “It was such an amazing summer for us and everyone in Wales. We still chat about what happened on the pitch and off the pitch. It will be with us forever.”
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was one of the first to appreciate the technical qualities of Ramsey, and was desperate to secure his services from Cardiff City in the summer of 2008 despite interest from a number of other clubs. FA Cup success followed for the Gunners in 2014, 2015 and 2017, with Ramsey scoring the winning goal against Chelsea to claim the trophy for the third time.
Now 30 and playing for Italian giants Juventus just as Cymru heroes John Charles and Ian Rush did before him, Ramsey will be keen to put his injury problems behind him this coming season. With 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying returning in September, his availability will be crucial for Cymru when the competitive international action resumes.
While the manner of Cymru's departure from EURO 2020 was frustrating for all involved, it was another step forward on the journey for this young and talented squad. Ramsey will understand from his own experiences that there is a process that leads to eventual success, and this team does have a bright future. The target for Ramsey now is to ensure that they get their chance at the next World Cup.