By Gareth James
David Brooks is determined to shine at a major tournament for Wales after suffering finals disappointment in the past.
Wales put automatic qualification for Euro 2024 in their own hands by beating Croatia 2-1 on Sunday as Brooks made his first international start since June 2021.
Brooks was diagnosed with stage-two Hodgkin lymphoma in October 2021, and it has been a long road back to form and fitness as the 26-year-old’s body took time to recover from the full effects of the disease.
The Wales vs Croatia team news is IN! 🚨
David Brooks starts for the hosts! 👏 pic.twitter.com/PTsQycXw8L
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) October 15, 2023
The Bournemouth forward missed Wales’ first World Cup for 64 years after playing a limited role at the Covid-delayed European Championships in 2021, managing only 31 minutes in three substitute appearances.
“The last couple of times we’ve been, I didn’t play as big a part as I would have liked,” said Brooks, who travelled to Qatar last year to support Wales at the World Cup when building up his fitness.
“I had to accept it because Gareth Bale was in front of me and he’s a living legend.
“So I’d love to go and be part of the team. It’s massive for me, that’s what I want to achieve in my career, I’ll be ready to go.”
Brooks scored in the 2-0 win in Latvia last month after coming on as a second-half substitute and showed signs he was back to his best against Croatia, despite not being a Premier League regular at Bournemouth.
Fair play @Cymru playing well. Two good saves from 🇭🇷 goalkeeper Dominic Livakovich to deny effervescent Harry Wilson & wide raider Neco Williams. Danny Ward untroubled so far. Kieffer Moore, Wilson & David Brooks combining well. But Wales need a goal!!ht0-0
— Rob Phillips (@robphillipshere) October 15, 2023
He produced some delightful touches in the opening 45 minutes against the World Cup semi-finalists, and then set up the first of Harry Wilson’s two goals before making way just before the hour mark.
“The occasion got a little bit the better of me, getting cramp earlier than I thought I would,” Brooks said.
“I said when I scored against Latvia it was a very proud moment and this was exactly the same.
“I don’t think anyone gave us a chance against Croatia but we’re not scared of playing anyone.
“We had a small dip in form in the summer camp to take it out of our hands, and if we have a good camp next time we’re through.
“You can see by the performances we are playing for the gaffer (Rob Page) and we love having him.”
Wales will secure automatic qualification for next summer’s Euro finals in Germany by beating Armenia and Turkey in November. If they fail to do so, they are guaranteed a play-off spot in March.
— Wales 🏴 (@Cymru) October 15, 2023
Page pointed out after the victory that took Wales into second spot behind group leaders Turkey seven of his starting XI are currently not playing first-team football at their respective clubs.
Goalkeeper Danny Ward is among that number as he has yet to play for Leicester this season.
Asked how it was possible to beat Croatia with the squad having played so little first-team football, Ward said: “Very famously Gareth (Bale) said ‘it’s the Dragon on the chest’ and he’s not wrong.
“The last camp for us was big. Two clean sheets, two positive performances. The foundations were set there as a group and this was a typical Wales performance.
“It was backs to the wall at times and moments of real quality. Our togetherness got us through in the end.”
🏴Wales 2-1 Croatia 🇭🇷 pic.twitter.com/Qsnzz0KEP7
— Robert Earnshaw (@RobertEarnshaw) October 15, 2023
Noson enfawr i Gymru a noson enfawr i Rob Page.
Dwy gôl Harry Wilson yn ddigon i Gymru ennill yn erbyn Croatia.
Wales beat Croatia in Cardiff and hopes of Euro 2024 qualification are back on!
— S4C Chwaraeon 🏴 (@S4Cchwaraeon) October 15, 2023