“It’s a good feeling. It’s something I’ve waited a long time for.”
At long last, Danny Ward’s patience is paying off. The Wales goalkeeper is set to feature against Denmark in the last 16 of UEFA EURO 2020 on Saturday, in what will be his fourth successive start at this summer’s tournament – an achievement which has been a long time in the making for the 28-year-old.
For club and country, Ward has spent the majority of his career to date as a back-up. He made just three appearances during a six-year stay at Liverpool between 2012 and 2018, a spell punctuated by loan moves to Morecambe, Aberdeen and Huddersfield Town.
Since signing for Leicester City in 2018, Ward has amassed only 14 outings in all competitions and has yet to make his Premier League debut for the Foxes.
At international level, the Wrexham-born shot-stopper’s ambition to become Wales No1 was also, for a long while, thwarted by Wayne Hennessey, the Dragons’ record appearance holder with 96 caps. Hennessey’s starting place had rarely been threatened until he suffered a thigh strain before a friendly against the United States last November, when Ward stepped in for his sixth start.
In Amsterdam on Saturday, Ward will make his 17th Wales appearance.
“It’s nice to be able to go out and show people what I can do,” said the goalkeeper, whose tally of 14 group-stage saves was bettered only by Turkey’s Uğurcan Çakır. “How can you not enjoy it? My mindset has always been about being a No1. It’s certainly something I’m relishing and enjoying.
“Wayne and [Wales’ third-choice custodian] Adam [Davies] have been amazing with me,” he continued. “The support they’ve given me has been incredible – I can’t speak highly enough of them. We keep pushing ourselves. The camaraderie we have is something quite unique and special.”
For Ward, going face to face – or glove to glove – with fellow Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel adds another special dimension to this weekend’s last-16 meeting with Denmark. The Welshman has a strong relationship with his club colleague, but there will be no room for sentiment at the Johan Cruijff ArenA.
“Kasper’s a good goalie and Denmark are a good team,” Ward said of the Group B runners-up, who beat Wales home and away in the UEFA Nations League in 2018. “It’s going to be tough, you have to respect people, but we’ve got to believe in what we want to do.”
Ward, part of the Welsh squad that reached the UEFA EURO 2016 semi-finals, says the Dragons’ current progress from a Group A featuring four-time world champions Italy, a Switzerland side ranked 13th in the world and pre-tournament dark horses Turkey, is “bigger than people realise” – but just how far can Rob Page’s team go?
“We fancy ourselves against anyone,” Ward said. “We were getting written off a little bit before the tournament. We have a lot of different players compared to five years ago but we’ve given a good account of ourselves.
“We’re just enjoying it. That’s all we can do – keep enjoying ourselves and making people back home proud.”