Cymru manager Rob Page will lead his team out against Turkey at the Olympic Stadium in Baku on Wednesday afternoon, 25-years after making his debut against the same opposition.
“I grew up in Tylorstown in the valleys,” said Page to UEFA.com in a recent interview. “So, I played football as a schoolboy and then progressed through the youth age groups with Wales and then went on to play for the seniors. To now manage them is a dream come true. It’s a very proud moment, of course, and to take them into a major tournament is extra special. We’ve got a great group of staff with us and a great group of players that I love working with.”
It was back in December 1996 that Page had his first taste of senior international football as he was selected for the World Cup qualifier against Turkey in Cardiff. The match took place just a month after the side had been defeated 7-1 against the Netherlands in Eindhoven. “Bobby Gould gave me my debut and I'll forever be in debt for him for giving me my first cap,” said Page about the 0-0 draw.
“They’re wonderful memories. It's an extremely proud moment when you’re standing singing the anthem. It brings a tear to your eye, absolutely. I think I played the left side of a three, but being predominantly right footed and playing right full back or right-side centre back, I was completely out of my comfort zone that day. I think it was the last game we played at the old Cardiff Arms Park as well, so it was a very special moment.”
Although his debut against Turkey didn't produce any goals, the next meeting between the two nations in the return match in Istanbul the following year delivered no-less than ten as Turkey claimed a 6-4 victory. “To score four goals in Turkey and lose the game is criminal,” Page reflected. “We've often talked about it. So yeah, lots of memories. Some good, some bad.”
During the course of his international playing career, Page would represent his country on 41 occasions between 1996 and 2005. Although his debut against Turkey remains an important and memorable milestone, his proudest moment arrived in his final year with the national team as he wore the captains armband during the 2-0 win over Hungary in Cardiff in February that year.
“Captaining the team against Hungary was a stand-out moment for me in terms of my international career,” Page explained to FAW.cymru back in 2017. “We won the game 2-0 and Craig Bellamy got both goals. There's no greater honour a man can have than to walk out and represent your country, and when you lead the boys out as well as captain, then it really doesn't get any better than that for me.”
Now leading his country at EURO 2020, Page is experiencing a very different type of test, but his passion and commitment to his country continues to shine through as he takes on the challenge of competing against the best of Europe on the biggest stage “It was a privilege to have been able to do that, and it was a privilege to have been a part of the setup and to get 41 caps,” he added. “You would walk on broken glass to play for your country.”