In November 2003, teenager Joe Allen traveled to Cardiff's Millenium Stadium, and watched a Wales side featuring Ryan Giggs, John Hartson, Robbie Savage, and the late Gary Speed concede a goal against Russia in the second leg of their qualifying playoff. It was to be the the only goal scored between the two teams over a contentious three hours of football, and it ensured that the 2004 European Championships would not become the occasion to mark Wales' first appearance at a major tournament.
Almost thirteen years later, Allen and his compatriots have a golden opportunity to exact some degree of revenge against Russia, while securing progress to the knockout rounds of the 2016 iteration of the same tournament. After experiencing stoppage time heartbreak against England (and at the hands/feet of Allen's clubmate Daniel Sturridge to boot), Wales know that their fate remains mostly within their own hands, and that a win on Monday against a lackluster Russia side will likely extend their stay in France.
"[I remember] the heartache. To come so close was disappointing. It was something we all had to endure together in Welsh football. But we have come a long way since then and we’re confident we can maybe use those disappointments of the past in modern times."
"It would be huge [to reach the last 16]. A couple of years ago, when we started this qualifying campaign, our one and only goal was to get here. Once that was done, we didn’t want to make it a case of just being tourists here to take part. We wanted to make sure we give it absolutely everything to get as far as we can and make our country proud. To get through would be big."
To get through, Allen knows that Wales will have to show more composure and attacking intent than they did against England, where Wales were largely held in check offensively, obligatory Gareth Bale goal notwithstanding. They will, however, still fancy their chances against a creaky Russia side currently languishing at the bottom of Group B with a solitary point in hand. While Wales face Russia in Toulouse, England will be simultaneously taking on Martin Škrtel's Slovakia, who, like Wales, are making their debut at the European Championships. Should Allen & Co. stumble against Russia, they will have to rely on Roy Hodgson (never a great position in which to be) to guide England past Slovakia.