Aaron Ramsey can banish pain of 1993 by leading Wales a step closer to 2018 World Cup

Wales need to beat the Republic of Ireland to secure a place in next month's play-offs and Aaron Ramsey is just as crucial to success as Gareth Bale.

Matt Jones
by Matt Jones
8th October 2017

article:8th October 2017

With an expectant nation dreaming of finally returning to football’s grandest stage after an absence of nearly six decades, you could forgive Aaron Ramsey for allowing the name Paul Bodin to creep into a deep, dark corner of his mind and unsettle him tonight.

November 17, 1993, ranks as one of Welsh football’s darkest days, Bodin becoming synonymous with Welsh failure as the Dragons yet again missed out on a World Cup finals appearance.

The Swindon left-back crashed his penalty kick against the crossbar at the old Cardiff Arms Park as a Gheorghe Hagi-inspired Romania seized the initiative, AC Milan striker Florin Raducioiu’s late winner sending his nation to the 1994 World Cup in America at the expense of Wales.

As Wales welcome the Republic of Ireland to Cardiff on another night of destiny in the capital 24 years later though, you sense Ramsey is exactly the right man to put Wales one step closer on the Road to Russia.

Ramsey of Wales is very different to the Ramsey of Arsenal. Hardened, focused and fired up. One of the biggest gripes from Gunners fans is his lack of leadership skills, yet that couldn’t be further from his persona at international level.

He is a warrior in the red of his country – living up to the ‘Rambo’ moniker bestowed upon him, made famous by the Sylvester Stallone 1980s film franchise.

Wales fans groaned collectively when it was announced Gareth Bale would miss the final two World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and the Republic.

Yet Ramsey was by some distance the best player on the pitch in Tbilisi on Friday, barking instructions throughout and helping his side keep their shape in the final, frantic moments as a crucial victory was accrued.

Bale’s goals fired Wales to last summer’s European Championships, a first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup. And they certainly made up for lost time with a stunning performance that saw them reach the semi-finals.

In France and since, however, Ramsey has proven to be every bit as crucial to Wales’ hopes of success as his more illustrious team-mate.

The 26-year-old has scored 48 goals in 304 appearances at Arsenal. He will be eligible for a testimonial at the end of the current campaign, having entered his 10th season with the Gunners. Yet, in many ways, it still feels like some Arsenal fans are yet to be convinced of his worth.

Ramsey to lead Wales in Bale's absence

Ramsey to lead Wales in Bale’s absence

He always appears to be a scapegoat when the Gunners come under fire for their almost annual failure to sustain a Premier League title challenge in Arsene Wenger’s twilight years in charge.

He scored once and delivered three assists in France last summer and his absence in the semi-final against Portugal proved too much to overcome.

He assumes more of an attacking role for Wales, given license to roam as opposed to the withdrawn role he often plays in the holding two at club level, where Arsene Wenger is spoilt for choice in attack with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez to call upon.

Chris Coleman builds his team around Ramsey, counted on to orchestrate attacks and probe opposition defences.

He’s really come to life when his nation have needed him most too – in the absence or more subdued World Cup qualifying campaign endured by Bale – scoring twice and registering an assist in the last four qualifiers.

Wales, or their fans at least, rightly still bask in the glow of a glorious return to prominence at Euro 2016. But it is a return to a stage they last graced when a 17-year-old Pele knocked them out at the quarter-final stage 59 years ago in Sweden that they truly crave.

They now stand on the brink of making more history. But it is Rambo, not Bale, who the army of Wales fans are grateful to have leading them into battle tonight.