Wales hungry for second helping of Euro qualification - Ben Davies

By Gareth VincentBBC Sport Wales
Gareth Bale 'ready to go' for Wales, says Ben Davies
Euro 2020 qualifier: Azerbaijan v Wales
Venue: Bakcell Arena, Baku Date: Saturday, 16 November Kick-off: 17:00 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Cymru & updates on the BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary

Win twice this week and Wales may well be preparing for a second straight European Championship.

This time, Ben Davies suggests, a nation expects.

Chris Coleman's team rewrote the history books by qualifying for Euro 2016, when Wales went to a major championship for only the second time having featured at the 1958 World Cup.

For Ryan Giggs's current crop, the challenge is different.

It has not been an easy campaign, with Wales fourth in Group E as the fight for qualification reaches a conclusion.

But with two games remaining - in Azerbaijan on Saturday and against Hungary in Cardiff next Tuesday - they have a genuine chance of finishing in the top two.

If Wales are victorious in both their fixtures and Slovakia do not win theirs - away in Croatia and at home to Azerbaijan - Giggs' team will be heading for Euro 2020.

"The excitement is there," says Tottenham Hotspur defender Davies.

"There are a lot of young, hungry, talented players in the squad who want to experience what we did in Euro 2016, and it's no different for the senior players.

"There is more expectation [compared with Euro 2016 qualifying]. That's come because we have shown what quality we have.

"Everybody expects to be playing in these tournaments because we are a good side. We have earned that expectation. Now it's about delivering."

Patience over nerves

Davies is one of Wales' senior figures these days, having reached 50 caps in the last international break in October.

The 26-year-old believes remaining calm will be key to hopes of setting up a grand finale against Hungary by winning in Baku this weekend.

"I don't think there's any point in being nervous," he says.

"It can be a nervy game if you start getting caught up in trying to score too early or force things to get the early goal.

"But it's a long 90 minutes and I don't care if we score in the 90th minute or the first. It doesn't matter. It's about patience. We have to trust in our plan."

Wales needed a late Gareth Bale goal to overcome Azerbaijan in Cardiff last September
Wales needed a late Gareth Bale goal to overcome Azerbaijan in Cardiff last September

Wales have not won an away qualifying game since a Tom Lawrence goal proved decisive in Georgia more than two years ago.

It is understandable, therefore, that they are taking nothing for granted as they prepare for Azerbaijan.

Saturday's hosts are bottom of the group and have nothing to play for, but they gave Wales a fright in Cardiff in September - Gareth Bale scored an 84th-minute winner that night - and then held Croatia to a 1-1 draw three days later.

The prospect of hosting Hungary next week knowing a win would mean qualification is a mouth-watering one for Wales, but first they must secure three points on their travels.

"As far as we are concerned, that game on Tuesday doesn't exist," Davies says.

"It's all about winning this first one. The Hungary game doesn't matter if we don't win this weekend."

Stars aligning

Wales' hopes of success look like being boosted by the presence of Bale and Aaron Ramsey, with the two star men on course to feature after injury concerns.

"I think any team in the world would say they would rather play Wales without Gareth Bale," Davies acknowledges.

"And to have someone of Rambo's quality coming back is amazing.

"It shows how far we have come that we have been playing without him for the last year or so."

Wales hope to have key duo Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey both fit to play after injury-affected seasons
Wales hope to have key duo Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey both fit to play after injury-affected seasons

The beauty of the current Wales squad is that there are others who can step up when Bale and Ramsey do not.

The likes of Manchester United's Daniel James and Harry Wilson of Bournemouth have proved they can cause Premier League defences problems this season, while Wigan's Kieffer Moore had a big impact in Wales' creditable draws against Slovakia and Croatia last month.

At the other end of the field, the likes of Joe Rodon, Tom Lockyer and Chris Mepham have been at the heart of a more youthful Wales backline.

"It's felt quite strange," says the full-back, who at the grand old age of 26 has been the most experienced player by some distance..

"I have been used to having Ash (Williams, aged 35) next to me most of my Welsh career. It's been a bit of a change, but I think we have handled it pretty well.

"I captained Tottenham for the first time recently. That was an amazing experience and something I was proud of.

"As quite a senior player in this Welsh team now I have got to step up and make sure I am helping the guys who come into the team."

With Rodon injured, central defender Williams looks a strong contender to come back into the side in Azerbaijan having established himself in the Bristol City side in recent weeks.

Should Williams return, he will add know-how at a time when it could be a key asset.

"I think as a group we have to be pretty calm," Davies says. "Emotions can't get in the way."

They can be saved for next Tuesday night, which Wales hope will mark the start of the countdown to Euro 2020.