Neil Taylor aims to gain more success dealing with Luka Modric this weekend than he did as a naïve Wales newbie almost a decade ago.
Saturday’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Osijek will pitch Wales full-back Taylor up against the skills of the brilliant Modric, the Ballon d’Or holder, who will look to undermine Welsh hopes at the intimidating Stadion Gradski Vrt.
Back in 2010, Taylor came on as a substitute for his Wales debut and wanted to impress then manager John Toshack by getting stuck into Modric.
In his youthful exuberance however, the former Swansea City and current Aston Villa left-back came off second-best by sustaining a nasty ankle injury during an energetic cameo.
In an interview with S4C’s Sgorio, Taylor said: “That was nine or ten years ago now and I remember getting some game time and I wanted to try and smash Modric, make an impact and show the manager that I’m here.
“I actually ended up doing myself by getting my foot stuck in the turf and did my ankle ligaments on my debut. I carried on because it was my debut and I didn’t want to come off, and there was only five minutes left so I just got myself around.
“I’ve been lucky to be involved a lot since then, but I remember that day fondly and it was a proud day for my family. I’ve never looked back since really.”
Returning with Wales for their second qualifier against last year’s World Cup runners-up, Taylor is hoping for better this time around after that 2-0 defeat nine years ago.
Things certainly improved on a personal basis after that false start.
Since then, Taylor has gone on to win 42 caps for his country and was a key figure in Wales’ Euro 2016 campaign, as he played every minute of every game, even scoring a goal against Russia.
However, a string of injuries and the solid form of rival Ben Davies saw the 30-year-old fail to make a single appearance during the first year of Ryan Giggs’ tenure as Wales manager.
He made his long-awaited return in a Wales shirt in the friendly against Trinidad and Tobago in March, but with doubts surrounding Davies’ fitness, he looks set to make a first competitive appearance under Giggs this weekend, either against Croatia on Saturday (2pm), or against Hungary on Tuesday evening (7.45pm). Both games will be shown live on S4C.
He added: “Everyone knows the good times I’ve had in this shirt, as a lot of lads have too, and we’re hoping we can have them again. Any time you’re involved in the squad and get a chance to wear the jersey, it’s special.
“We should all feel very privileged to be called up at any point. Every player has their ups and downs, when they’re playing or not playing, but the key is to work the same way day in, day out, and it’ll come back around.
“There’s 29 players here and there’s competition all over the place. There are times when Ben, or Paul Dummett or I have been injured, but to be picked, you’ve got to be available and playing regularly for your team.
“As a player, all you can do is get your own work done and let the manager pick the team.
“The pool of players we’ve got to pick from has grown and grown. The level of talent of the players coming in is great and that’s credit to the system we’ve had in place for years now, and ultimately the success we have at this level has a knock-on effect all the way down.
“These next two double-headers are big learning curves for the young lads and it will be a realisation for them about what international football is all about.“
S4C’s live coverage of Croatia v Wales starts at 1.30pm on Saturday, while coverage of Hungary v Wales starts at 7.25pm on Tuesday. Former Wales internationals John Hartson, Owain Tudur Jones and Gwennan Harries will provide studio analysis for Sgorio on the matches. For the latest team news and interviews, follow @sgorio on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.