Euro 2016: Ashley Williams seeks 'biggest achievement' for Wales

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Wales Sport in Andorra
Ashley Williams
Ashley Williams won his first Wales cap against Luxembourg in March 2008
2016 Euro qualifier: Andorra v Wales
Venue: Andorra National Stadium Date: Tuesday, 9 September, 2014 Time: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, online, mobile, and the BBC Sport app

Ashley Williams says leading Wales to Euro 2016 qualification would eclipse all he has achieved in his career.

Wales begin their campaign in Andorra, bidding to reach a major finals for the first time since the 1958 World Cup.

Captain Williams, who skippered Swansea to League Cup glory in 2013, said: "It would be the biggest achievement in my career.

"We're aware of the great Welsh teams in the past that fell short for whatever reason."

Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale and Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey are among those expected to start against Andorra, who have lost their last 44 competitive games since a goalless draw against Finland nine years ago and have failed to score in 18 competitive matches.

Wales's Euro 2016 qualifiers
ANDORRA (a) Tuesday, 9 September 2014; (h) 13 October 2015
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA (h) 10 October 2014; (a) 10 October 2015
CYPRUS (h) 13 October 2014;(a) 3 September 2015
BELGIUM (a) 16 November 2014; (h) 12 June 2015
ISRAEL (a) 28 March 2015; (h) 6 September 2015

And Williams added: "A lot's been put on this group - we really want to be the team that lived up to that potential.

"For this group now the time is perfect. We're settled and have been with each other for a long time."

Although Wales played at the quarter-final stage of the European Championships in 1976, they have yet to appear at the tournament in its remodelled format.

Having been drawn alongside Bosnia-Hercegovina, Belgium, Israel, Cyprus and Andorra in Group B, there is a growing belief Wales could end their long wait for a chance to play in a major tournament with the top two sides qualifying automatically.

The best third-placed finisher will also go to France, while the remaining eight third-placed teams go into play-offs in November 2015.

Wales players train at the Andorra National Stadium
Wales players trained on the 3G pitch at the Andorra National Stadium on Monday evening

The optimism is fuelled further by the strength of the current squad.

In addition to Bale and Ramsay, the likes of Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen and Tottenham defender Ben Davies provide the team with a number of big-club players.

And for Williams, another of Wales' Premier League contingent, this campaign is about expecting to qualify, rather than merely hoping to do so.

"Everyone concerned feels we can do it," he said.

"We're putting pressure on ourselves and saying 'We must do it'. There's more expectation than hope.

BBC football analyst Robbie Savage
"I think they have got to win tonight, they have got to win by a few goals. I think it's their best opportunity [to qualify] since that play-off defeat against Russia. There will be no excuses this time. They have to qualify."

"We're not hiding - we're going into this to qualify, not just to see where we get.

"We want to get to a major tournament and we're saying that from the start."

The game will be played on a 3G pitch, which the Wales squad trained on for the first time on Monday night.

The artificial surface only passed a Uefa inspection on 3 September but Wales boss Chris Coleman has played down any concerns, saying his players would just "get on with it".

Wales are favourites - Coleman

There have been many tales of near misses for Wales over the years, most notably a defeat to Romania in 1993 which cost them a place at the 1994 World Cup and a 2003 play-off loss to Russia which saw them miss out on Euro 2004.

But with a talented group of players and a relatively open group, manager Coleman shares Williams' determination to ensure there is no such heartbreak this time.

"That disappointment is not nice. We felt like we were going to do it twice - lost to Romania and lost in the play-offs to Russia.

"That feeling of getting so close and not doing it is not nice, so that's what drives me on.

"This is crop of players is a very good crop of players. It's my job to protect them when they get labelled as the 'golden generation' - they're not yet.

"They need to produce the goods, then they can be the golden generation, and they know that."