JULY 1, 2016, the Euros quarter-final against Belgium, the greatest of the 71 times Ashley Williams has pulled on a Wales shirt.
Fast forward 14 months and the Dragons skipper is desperate to make sure that epic feeling of playing tournament football was not a one-off.
For that dream to happen at next summer’s World Cup in Russia, Williams admits there is no margin for error.
Chris Coleman’s men lie third in qualifying Group D, four points behind leaders Serbia and Republic of Ireland, with four games to go.
But there is a belief in the squad that if they can collect a maximum 12 points — starting against Austria in Cardiff on Saturday night — then the global finals beckon.
And that would give the Everton defender a shot at replicating the sweet memories of the last-eight triumph in Lille when Wales thumped Belgium 3-1 to reach the semi-finals.
Williams cannot help but smile as he fondly recalls last summer, a campaign that ended in a 2-0 defeat to eventual winners Portugal.
But he gets serious when the topic of backing up their success in France crops up.
The 33-year-old said: “There’s always that fear we’re a one-hit wonder. But I don’t think this team is because we’re actually a good team.
“We’re a better team than at the Euros, with that international experience of qualifying and going to the tournament. What we don’t have compared to then is momentum.
“I’d be disappointed if we didn’t qualify. We wouldn’t be failures but in this campaign we would have failed.
“It would be as disappointing as the ones before — maybe more so because we know we have it inside us.
“Before, we always had doubts. With the way the group sits at the minute, if we don’t qualify it’s down to us.
“It’s important for all we achieved last summer that the team and the Football Association of Wales build on it and qualify for the next one.
“Whether we get to a semi-final again might be a different story.
“But it’s important for us not to be one of those teams like Greece and Denmark who never did it again.”
While Williams is now targeting a run on football’s biggest stage, he was happy to recall how he nearly missed that huge game against Belgium.
A heavy collision with 5ft 6in team-mate Jonny Williams in the last-16 win over Northern Ireland left the 6ft centre-half unable to move his left shoulder.
Williams said: “When Jonny hit me, I heard the sound of someone ripping a shirt. I put my left arm out — that made it worse. I couldn’t move my arm but thought, ‘if this is my last game, I’d rather see it out’.
“After the game I thought it was over but I wasn’t down about it. I was happy we’d won and got through.
“I remember texting my family and saying, ‘I’m not bothered’.
“After a couple of beers with the boys in the dressing room and some painkillers, I was in the ambulance going to hospital, still wearing my kit, arm in a sling and thinking, ‘what’s happening?’
“I had an X-ray but had to go back to the hotel and then another hospital. I had an MRI scan in a private clinic at 11pm.
“I got the results that night and it was touch and go but I started to think I had a chance.
“We flew back to our base in Dinard on the Sunday and the shoulder felt worse.
“I got treatment morning and evening to get the inflammation out and didn’t train until the day before the game.
“After Northern Ireland, I didn’t expect to play but, luckily, it turned out all right.”
And luckily for Wales, Williams not only played against Belgium but dragged them level with just his second goal for his country before Hal Robson-Kanu’s famous ‘Cruyff turn’ and Sam Vokes’ header.
Williams’ first-half header sparked an iconic celebration which saw him roaring down the touchline to be greeted by team-mates and management in a joyous scrum in the technical area that symbolised their motto ‘Together Stronger’.
Williams laughed and said: “I always get the mick taken out of me for the celebration.
“I just get excited when I score. I cringe when I watch it back. I look more angry than happy.
“If I score again I’m not celebrating like that.
“The Belgium goal was massive. We were all over them. I’ve watched it back hundreds of times. We needed that goal.”
The goal now is a quartet of autumn victories, starting with Austria and then trips to Moldova and Georgia before a final showdown with Ireland in Cardiff on October 9.
Williams added: “We need to win four games and we are more than capable of winning them.
“If we do that then we’ve qualified, it’s that simple.
“The first tournament will always be the most special for everyone because you couldn’t write it. It was a dream.”
Don’t Take Me Home, the documentary about Wales’ march to the Euro 2016 semi-finals, is available on DVD & Blu-ray.
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