Joe Ledley believes Wales are still in a fantastic position to progress to the last 16 despite their chastening injury-time defeat against England, but the Crystal Palace midfielder has admitted they need to show much more composure in possession after giving the ball away far too cheaply in Lens.
Ledley, who was substituted after taking a kick on a calf with the score at 1-1, insisted that he would be fit to face Russia in the final group game on Monday, with his withdrawal against England merely a precaution given that he was making his first start since breaking a leg little more than a month ago.
It was a cruel moment for Ledley to endure from the bench, when Daniel Sturridge beat Wayne Hennessey at his near post to give England victory, but the defiant mood within the Wales camp was encapsulated by the sight of Ashley Williams gathering everyone together for a huddle after the final whistle and preaching a positive message.
“Ash told us there is still a game left and we are still in it,” Ledley said. “We are in a fantastic position and we need to regroup, we can still progress and it is in our hands. There is a big game in a few days and we must stay strong and stay together.
“We are new to this competition and it has been brilliant. The fans have been brilliant and we just need to continue what we have been doing both on the pitch and off the pitch. Nothing changes. It was the last few seconds that cost us; there are a lot of positives we can take and maybe the thing we can improve on is keeping the ball a bit better.”
Wales were never going to take the game to England. They prefer to play on the counterattack and knew the English would dominate possession, yet it was still alarming to see the ball handed back to Roy Hodgson’s side time and again, even if Hennessey had few saves to make.
“It’s always difficult against England,” Ledley said. “They are a good team who work it; they had a lot of the ball but did not really hurt us much. We normally keep the ball better but they did well pressing. The pitch was a bit dry, which did not help, but we need to perform better in that area.”
Ledley lasted 67 minutes against England and may well have carried on but for concerns he could do some long-term damage that would jeopardise his involvement against Russia. “It is OK, I felt my calf tightening up a bit during half-time and once I got a bang on it, it stiffened up a bit and we needed to take the precaution with it,” he said. “I could have played on but the lads said not to risk it. I did not expect to play 90 minutes and it was just good to start the game.”
Asked whether he thought that he could have been targeted in any way, because he had played only 21 minutes of football since returning from his injury 40 days earlier, Ledley said: “No, not at all. That is football, you go to hit people and it was an accident how Sturridge came in. I will come back stronger.”
Wales now play Russia in Toulouse with destiny still in their own hands. A win guarantees a place in the knockout stage while a draw will be enough to secure second spot if Slovakia fail to defeat England. A point could also see them through as one of the best third-placed teams. “Russia are a strong team, well organised,” Ledley said. “We need a point or three to get through and that is our aim, to go there and get the job done.”
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