Chris Gunter becomes the first Welshman to win 100 caps on Saturday admitting that he would have believed it impossible on the day he won his first as a teenager 14 years ago.
Wales’ 2-2 friendly draw with New Zealand at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground on May 26, 2007 would long have slipped into Welsh football history but for Gunter’s debut.
What has followed since has been a story of despair and delight and, in a nation which has produced the likes of John Charles, Gareth Bale and Ian Rush, three figures finally reached in a behind-closed-doors friendly with Mexico at the Cardiff City Stadium.
“The week before my debut was the most enjoyable,” said Gunter, 31, who will captain Wales in his landmark game.
“Being around players you’ve watched for years on the TV, probably never thinking you’d be in that position.
“The feelings are completely different when you get in the squad, you just try and stay in it. It does go quick.
“But if you’d have asked me on that day that you’ll be on the brink of 100 caps, I certainly wouldn’t have believed anyone.
“I’m just very proud. It means the world to me to represent the country and do what I know so many people would love to do.
“It’s tough to put into words because you’ve given your life to hopefully performing for your country. But you never it take for granted.”
Newport-born Gunter has admitted in the past that had he not made the Wales right-back spot his own – he started 63 consecutive games between 2011 and 2018 – he would have been following the team from the terraces.
Had he done so he would have witnessed some tough times, from embarrassing defeats in Serbia and Switzerland to being qualification also-rans before campaigns had barely started.
There was also the tragic death of manager Gary Speed in November 2011 to deal with, an episode which left deep scars on an extremely young squad.
But out of tragedy came triumph and in 2016 Wales reached a first major tournament for the first time 58 years.
Not only did Chris Coleman’s side achieve that, they made it all the way to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 in France.
“The Euro summer and the spell leading up to that in the qualifying campaign,” Gunter replied when asked to choose a highlight from his 14 years with Wales.
“We were so close as a team, squad and staff. It was really special as we’d gone through some tough times together.
“To then achieve something like we did… knowing how much it meant to everybody. When you’ve had tricky times it obviously means a lot more.
“I wouldn’t have picked anyone from previous Wales squads to share the memories and journey I’ve been on with the players I have.
“We’ve grown up from kids together. To have experienced that with what I consider really good friends is more than enough for me.”
- 99 - Chris Gunter
- 94 - Wayne Hennessey
- 92 - Neville Southall
- 88 - Gareth Bale
- 86 - Ashley Williams
As well as being the first men’s player to 100 caps, Gunter will go down in Welsh folklore for two memorable moments at Euro 2016.
Gunter roused dejected supporters in the immediate aftermath of a group defeat to England with a chin-up gesture to them, summing up Wales’ determination to bounce back from adversity.
And in the quarter-final against Belgium his pinpoint cross found the head of Sam Vokes to secure a 3-1 victory – arguably Wales’ greatest-ever.
But how does the modest Gunter believe he will be remembered?
“Just a normal guy who turned up after being selected quite a lot of times and gave his absolute best,” he said.
“Someone that could never guarantee a good or bad performance, but you always knew what you were going to get in terms of effort and one that was always there.
“I’m very fortunate the Welsh public and fans that all they ask from a player is effort. Ability is second to your effort, which suits me down to the ground.”
Wales will be without injured midfielder Joe Allen for the Mexico friendly, as well as Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic in Cardiff.
St Pauli defender James Lawrence is also missing, with caretaker manager Robert Page explaining his absence is down to local quarantine regulations in Germany.
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