By Rob Cole
Slovakian skipper Marek Hamsik still recalls the day Ben Davies stopped him from scoring the first goal for his country at the Euro 2016 finals in France – and changed the course of football history for both nations.
Wales went on to win 2-1 and continued all the way to the semi-finals, while Slovakia, also at their first Euro finals, went out at the pool stages.
There were only three minutes on the clock when Hamsik slalomed his way into the Welsh penalty area and shot past Wayne Hennessey for what seemed like a certain goal.
But Davies had other ideas and somehow the Tottenham defender slid in to clear.
Both men will be reunited at Cardiff City Stadium today when Wales kick-off their latest Euro qualifying campaign against a Hamsik-inspired Slovakian team.
“I remember the moment well. It was unlucky for me because I did a very good individual action and unfortunately I didn’t score,” recalled Hamsik, now plying his trade in China after a successful spell at Napoli.
“That match was quite unlucky for us. We could have won, Wales showed their power and we lost it.
“Croatia are the favourites in our group now, but Wales also have quality. One day, we hope to qualify for the championship because it’s a dream for us.”
Today the process of backing up that epic performance in France starts again for Wales under their new manager Ryan Giggs. Their opening game in Group E is all the more important because their next two matches are both away from home, against Croatia and Hungary in June.
More defensive heroics from Davies could be the order of the day given Slovakia got their campaign off to a flying start with a 2-0 home win over Hungary on Thursday night.
“That game in Bordeaux was probably one of the best games in recent memory. It was a tough day against a good side,” said Davies.
“It was a long time ago now, but it was a special moment. Things could have been a lot different at the Euros for us had that shot gone in, so it’s always nice to look back on.
“I’ve seen it back a couple of times, not too recently, but they were some good memories. Hopefully, I won’t have to do it again this time around.
“It’s in the past now and we need to kick on and start this campaign well. It was a big game at the time, but we want to replicate that and it has to start here.
“It’s going to be a tough game, they are a good side with quality players. Hamsik going to China doesn’t make a difference, he’s still a top, top player and we have to be wary of what they’ve got.
“It’s not going to be an easy group, we are well aware of that, and you have to win your home games. We want to start the game on the front foot and we have to start at 100 miles per hour.”
Whatever start they make, Wales will launch their campaign without one Aaron Ramsey, who returned to Arsenal still nursing a thigh injury, robbing Ryan Giggs of one of his main playmakers.
His loss comes on top of that of Ethan Ampadu, Sam Vokes and Tom Lawrence, who all pulled out of the squad earlier in the week.
Wales (likely 4-2-3-1) Hennessey; C Roberts, Mepham, Williams, Davies; Allen, Smith; Brooks, Bale, Wilson; T Roberts
Slovakia: (4-2-3-1) Dubravka; Pekarik, Vavro, Skriniar, Hancko; Kucka, Lobotka; Rusnak, Hamsik, Mak; Duda
Referee: Felix Zwayer (GER)