By Graham Thomas
Joe Rodon says he has taken a leaf out of Gareth Bale’s book and not “cried” over his club situation as the pair bid to take Wales to the World Cup.
Like Bale at Real Madrid, Rodon has been under-employed by his club this season – making just 10 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur and only three in the Premier League.
But the duo will be key pillars at either end of the pitch for Wales against Ukraine on Sunday in the World Cup play-off showdown at Cardiff City Stadium, a gigantic match that is live on S4C.
Bale – who played just seven matches in his final season in Madrid – will be the man Welsh fans will look to for goals and creativity as he attempts to guide his country to their first World Cup finals appearance since 1958.
Rodon will be at the heart of Wales’ defence, trying to keep Ukraine’s Roman Yaremchuk in check and deflate most of the rest of the world by denying the war-torn nation a place in Qatar.
The 24-year-old Spurs centre-back says: “I feel that even though I haven’t been playing, I have kept my head down and not cried about it.
“I have worked really hard all season and it’s brought me to this point. Hopefully, I will be fine at the weekend.
#afcb are also rumoured to be interested in Tottenham and Wales centre back Joe Rodon. #afcb are interested on bringing in the 24 year old on loan or permanently with Spurs willing to let him leave this summer. pic.twitter.com/1bOq3z1sFA
— Josh Wyatt (@JoshWyattJ) May 28, 2022
“Gareth has obviously been in the game way longer than me. He knows what he needs for his body and how he needs to keep himself ticking over and in condition for the games.
“It’s the same with me. It’s important that when things aren’t going the way you want them to go – and you’re not playing – then you have to be professional and keep yourself in condition.”
The former Swansea defender has been an integral part of Wales’ success in recent seasons, playing in every minute of every game at last summer’s Euro finals as well as the most recent World Cup ties against the Czech Republic, Estonia, Belarus, Belgium and Austria.
At club level, however, he has yet to fully convince Spurs manager Antonio Conte and there have been reports the player may seek a move elsewhere this summer.
He does, though, credit his club with keeping him in perfect condition to play his best for his country.
“Anyone in my position would feel exactly the same – every footballer wants to play games,” adds Rodon.
“But, I feel that at Spurs we train very hard – probably harder than most – and to be fair, I can’t thank the staff enough because they keep those who aren’t involved in very good shape.
“I feel that has served me well when I go into these Wales camps. I can only be grateful to the staff for the way they have handled me and kept me in good shape.”
Almost every neutral will be hoping Ukraine can bring some joy to their nation on Sunday and successfully ride the wave of emotion that carried them to an impressive 3-1 victory over Scotland in Glasgow on Wednesday in their play-off semi-final.
Wales players Joe Rodon, Ben Davies & Ethan Ampadu were the FAW representatives at St.Fagans today, talking ahead of Sunday’s game. pics by Andrew Orchard #R6 on trial pic.twitter.com/xPI5OR7LOU
— Andrew Orchard (@sportsphotoAOSP) June 2, 2022
Rodon acknowledges that few outside of Wales will be rooting for the home side, but insists: “We can’t really think too much about that.
“We are playing at home and we will have a lot of support. It is what it is. We are all one group and we need to focus on ourselves. Hopefully, we can put in a great shift.
“It has been a long season. It is important we all try and keep on top of things and ticking over. Everyone here wants to play every game, but sometimes it can’t work like that.
“Against Scotland, Ukraine gave a very strong performance. They have been a top team for a while now and so it’s something to be excited about and look forward to. We are all excited about this occasion on Sunday.”
When Wales reached the finals of Euro 2016, Rodon was just 18 and had yet to make his Swansea debut.
But he insists that thanks to a DVD in the family home his World Cup knowledge goes back to 2002 and the tournament finals held in South Korea and Japan, the last time Brazil finished as winners.
“As a kid, I always used to watch the DVD of the 2002 World Cup. To be part of that – and for a country that hasn’t been there since 1958 – it would just be a dream come true.
“I can’t look too far ahead, because there is still one more game to go. But, I am going to give everything, and the other boys will, to make that happens and becomes a reality.”
“I certainly hope it doesn’t come down to penalties.”
Paul Bodin relives Romania penalty pain + why he expects Wales to clear final World Cup hurdle at last in Ukraine decider. https://t.co/1v1qpAc5AM
— Phil Blanche (@philblanche) June 3, 2022
Rodon may have left his home-town club, but he admits there has been plenty of demand for tickets from family and friends for Sunday’s clash, which will be watched by a sell-out crowd of 33,000.
Those cheering him on will include his elder brother Sam, a familiar face in the crowd at Swansea City games, who has previously been spotted with former Swansea striker Oli McBurnie.
“There’s an army coming. It’s at home, so it’s easy for the family and so they can all come and enjoy the occasion.
“I am sure they are way more nervous than I am. I’ve got a few mates going, but mostly family and hopefully I can make them proud.”
S4C: Sunday, 4.15pm – Sgorio Rhyngwladol: Wales v Ukraine.
Live coverage of the FIFA World Cup play-off final between Wales and Ukraine, from the Cardiff City Stadium.