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Harry Wilson knew he had to step up for Wales after Gareth Bale retirement

Harry Wilson admits the onus was on him to step out of Gareth Bale’s shadow and keep Wales on track for major tournaments.

Boss Rob Page revealed recently he spoke to Wilson last summer and told him he was no longer simply a squad member and that he is a “big player” for Wales.

Wilson responded with a hand in both goals in September’s 2-0 win in Latvia, and then scored twice in the stunning 2-1 victory over World Cup semi-finalists Croatia last month.

Those two wins lifted Wales up to second in Group D and they will qualify automatically for Euro 2024 by taking six points from their final two games, away to Armenia on Saturday and at home to Turkey three days later.

Wales v Austria – FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifier – Semi Final – Cardiff City Stadium
Harry Wilson, right, has taken over the attacking mantle from the retired Gareth Bale in recent Wales games (Nick Potts/PA)

“Gaz provided a lot of moments for us on the pitch in times that we needed him,” Fulham forward Wilson said of Wales’ record scorer Bale, who retired from football in January.

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“So for me being an attacking player, I need to start stepping up in those moments, and thankfully I was able to do that in the Croatia game.

“I’m not stupid, I know I wasn’t the first on the team sheet because we had Gaz at Real Madrid and ‘Rambo’ (Aaron Ramsey) at Arsenal and then Juventus.

“They were playing regular football at the top level and it felt like they produced in every game.

“I wasn’t happy with that because I wanted to be playing, but now with players leaving, I think there’s a spot there for me and I’d like to think that I have stepped up.”

Wilson won his 50th cap against Croatia, 10 years to the day since becoming Wales’ youngest-ever male player at the age of 16 years and 207 days.

Affectionately known as ‘The King of Corwen’ by Wales fans, Wilson has also stepped up off the pitch as part of a leadership group.

He said: “It’s not just Gaz leaving, Joe (Allen) left as well as a couple of senior players who made sure that the standards are always up there.

“I’ve gone from maybe one of the younger ones in the squad to being one of the oldest quite quickly.

“We had a little meeting during the last camp that ‘Rambo’, Ben Davies, Connor Roberts, Ethan Ampadu and myself were in.

“It’s a group of lads who want to make sure the standards are set every day, making sure everything is right off the pitch so we can perform on it.

“I’m not the one who’s going to be barking orders on the pitch, but I like to lead in a different way and doing stuff right. On the pitch, I want to lead with the ball and try to make stuff happen.”

Wales will be looking towards Wilson again as they attempt to reach a fourth major tournament out of five and avenge June’s shock 4-2 home defeat to Armenia.

He said: “We know what we did wrong in that game and we know what we’ve got to do on Saturday to put that right.

“For sure we owe them one. They played a fantastic game, but we also know we weren’t at the levels we’ve been at since. If we can perform like we did against Croatia, I’m pretty confident we can get a result.”