Schalke's Rabbi Matondo on Playing for Wales With Bale & Ramsey, Black Lives Matter & Leaving Manchester City

01 July 2020 01:30

It's been four years to the day since that turn.

Four years since the moment Hal Robson-Kanu allowed a nation of three million to dream, and to start believing that they might just be about to put themselves on the footballing map.

Their dreams came true. Sam Vokes' incredible glancing header confirmed 1 July 2016 was to be known as the most famous day in Welsh footballing history, as they conquered second-in-the-world Belgium in the quarter finals of Euro 2016, at their first tournament in 58 years.

COVID-19 has meant that Wales' appearance at a second consecutive European Championship has been pushed back by a year, though current senior international Rabbi Matondo believes it may play into the hands of a new generation of players - who will now be afforded the opportunity to grow with another full season of senior football.

"To reach it again was fantastic," admits Matondo, who grew up in Cardiff and has earned four senior caps to date. "But I feel like for us, we could benefit.

"A lot of us are young players coming through, and important players for us picked up injuries [key players Joe Allen and David Brooks among them]. So to get them back fit and hopefully go again next year, I think it can make us even stronger than we are right now. We can just take the benefits out of it."

When Euro 2020 does take place, it's set to be 19-year-old Matondo's first major tournament at international level, selection pending, and stepping out on the pitch in Baku next summer will represent quite the journey for a young player who watched that game in Lille in Cardiff with his mates and a takeaway.

"I was too young to be out at that point!" he laughs. "I think it was on a weekend that Wales played Belgium - I was in high school at the time. Me and the boys that went to the same school would go over each other's houses, order food and watch the games, and obviously the result was crazy. The scenes afterwards were unbelievable."

Matondo grew up in Cardiff City's youth academy, moving to Manchester City for just over three years before joining Bundesliga club Schalke in January 2019. His first senior cap for Wales came before making his first-team debut at club level, and until this season it's meant a lot of watching and learning.

"I'd felt like that in January 2019, it was very important for me to make that decision. I feel like I made the right one."Rabbi Matondo on leaving Man City

"Even the way they go about things around camp, you can't help but just look and watch their every movement - in the gym, on the pitch, even when they get treatment," he said of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, two of Wales' most experienced heads and two players he now lines up alongside for his country.

"Obviously being a young player and a young boy, watching them do what they did in 2016, and seeing what Bale has done at Tottenham and Ramsey at Arsenal - you can't help but to see 'this is how they got to this level'. You're kind of intrigued - and that goes for most young players in the Welsh team.

"I've always believed in myself to get to this level, but when you're actually here, it's like, it's unbelievable. There's no words to explain."