Wales winger Daniel James is relishing the prospect of competing in his country’s first World Cup in 64 years – but is under no illusions about the difficulty of his side’s opening test against the United States.
The two teams face off in World Cup Group B at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Monday, with both teams hopeful and confident they will get their respective campaigns off to a flying start with three points in a group which also contains Iran and England.
Speaking as Wales prepare for their campaign in Qatar, James admitted he knows that USMNT in particular have a number of quality players, given he has played with a number of them over the course of this year. Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson are current teammates at Fulham, while Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson play for parent club Leeds.
“They’ve said about giving me a few kicks in training,” he joked of Ream and Robinson.
When asked how he may fare in a direct face-off against Robinson, given both could occupy the same part of the pitch on opposing teams, he said: “We’re both quick players. He’s a great player and has been absolutely unbelievable this season.
“Going forward he’s been great. He’s always a problem for wingers because he’ll always run you that way, but he’s been incredible defensively as well. He’s shown that. Maybe people doubted him going to the Premier League. Is he going to be able to do the defensive side that much because he’s classed as an attacking full-back? He’s definitely shown that [he can] and if we do play against each other it would be a good match-up.”
James was adamant he’d win a foot-race between the pair, though, answering without hesitation.
“They [USMNT] have got an incredible squad. We played against them at Swansea and they played all their European players because of COVID. They’re a very athletic team, and I’ve obviously played with two players at Leeds and they’ve got great attitudes. I think it’ll be a great match up.
“Going to the World Cup they’ve got expectations of going through. With us it’s just about how we can go into every game believing we can win and with full confidence.”
Welsh captain Gareth Bale has claimed he’s fully fit despite featuring sparingly since his move to LAFC in MLS, though he did score a dramatic extra time equaliser before his side won the MLS Cup on penalties in his last competitive outing – and important goals is something Bale has a proven knack for at both club and international level.
James opened up on how Bale leads his Wales team: “Gaz is very chilled, he’s a great guy. You’ve seen what he’s done over the years and last week as well – he comes on for 20 minutes and takes them into penalties and they end up winning it. He’s only just gone there and he’s done what he’s always done. Whenever he’s on the pitch we know that he come up with anything at any time.
“Off the pitch he’s brilliant with all of us. No one is scared to talk to him. When you have a character that has done so much, especially with boys coming through that maybe are too scared to talk to him, he’s great with them. He’s our captain. Before the games the team talks are always great. He loves playing for Wales just as much as we all do.
“He’s a massive reason why Wales is on that world stage – doing what he did at the Euros and we’re just glad to be in a World Cup with him.”