After a 1-0 loss to Italy, Wales were able to progress into the knockout stages of Euro 2020, finishing second place in Group A due to their superior goal difference to third place Switzerland, who also finished on four points.
Daniel James might’ve not had an important role for Manchester United over the last season, but his role for The Dragons cannot be understated. The Welshman has started all three group games and played 238 minutes in total.
He has not only had a crucial part to play in maintaining a strong defensive shape and having a solid workrate, but James has also been a menace going forward for Robert Page’s side. James finished as the top creator in Group A, with eight chances created according to WhoScored — he is also currently the top chance creator in the entire competition, but that will likely change with many players only with two matches played.
Nevertheless, United’s number 21 has been a real danger on the left flank for Wales, utilising his pure speed to his advantage on the international stage. The 23-year-old spoke to BBC Sport about his blistering pace: “It’s something I’ve got to use to my advantage, I’ve always tried to do that. [At] times I’ve not used it to my advantage as much as I can.”
He continued to praise the Welsh support in the grounds even though many fans couldn’t travel due to Covid-19 restrictions. James said: “We’ve kind of normalised it now for so long without them. It’s nice to hear what’s going on [with the fans].”
The winger added: “My mum said she had been sent videos of fans chanting my name in a pub, which is really nice to hear. We wish we could see all the fans first-hand; we see them on social media and we feel and believe their support on the pitch and it makes you fight that little bit more.”
The Euro 2016 semi-finalists will face the runners-up of Group B. With Belgium looking likely to top the group, it is likely that the Welsh’s opponent in the round-of-16 is any one of Russia, Finland or Denmark with the former two being matched on three points, while the Danes sit bottom of the table with zero points thus far.
If Wales are going to progress further into the tournament, it will be thanks to their resolute defending as a team, something which suits James to a tee.Embed from Getty Images
He still needs to improve his quality on the ball, but Daniel James is thriving with his national side right now and will look to take this momentum into the latter stages of the tournament, but also to United next season as he looks to compete with many top players for a spot in the squad and team for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side.
James looks at his most comfortable when he operates on the left side for Wales, often cutting inside and crossing or looking to find a man in the box on the outside with his left foot, something that he seems to have improved at over the last season. He was able to set-up Anthony Elanga for his first United goal against Wolves in the Premier League with a perfect left-footed cross.
While that spot on the left-wing at United looks extremely difficult to break in for the Welshman, he has shown that he can be a good utility man for The Red Devils. His role in United’s pressing system is always prominent when he starts too.
Alongside the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, James will be looking to recreate the excitement of Euro 2016 in the knockout stages of this years tournament.