DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Ben Cabango thought about playing with his brother Theo in his garden.
“He and I always used to come to that,” he said. “Looking back now, it’s just good times.”
The stakes are much higher these days. Ben Cabango is a 22-year-old defender preparing for Wales’ first World Cup game in 64 years, against the United States on Monday. Theo is a 20-year-old winger preparing to travel to South Africa for Cardiff’s game against the Sharks in the United Rugby Championship.
“I think we’ve both pushed each other,” Ben said Saturday, “because you obviously have a competitive nature when you’re both kids that want to do better than the other.”
Ben played rugby and soccer until the age of 13, then decided to stick with soccer. His brother played soccer for a while and now hopes to be called up to the Wales national rugby team.
“Rugby basically picked him up, I think obviously with his pace,” Ben said. “He has done well.”
Ben played for the Swansea academy and began his professional career away from the limelight, with The New Saints in the Welsh league in 2018-19. He plays for Swansea in England’s second division league championship and made the first of five international appearances for Wales in Finland in September 2020 as a second-half stoppage-time substitute.
Wales reached the quarter-final of the World Cup in 1958, losing to Brazil 1–0 when Pelé dribbled past Mel Charles and beat goalkeeper Jack Kelsey from close range in the 66th minute.. The Dragons were ranked 117th in 2011 and didn’t make it to another major tournament until qualifying for the 2016 European Championship. They beat Slovakia and Russia in the group stage around a loss to Englandthen defeated Northern Ireland and defeated Belgium 3-1 before a semi-final loss to eventual champions Portugal.
Cabango recalled seeing the win over a star-studded Belgian team.
“I was in that Cardiff fan zone celebrating with all my teammates,” he said. “We all want that feeling again. It’s surreal to think about beating big teams like that, and we know we can do it.”
His parents and his girlfriend will travel to Qatar on Sunday, where Wales train near the center of Doha at the Al Sadd club facilities. A catchphrase at the top of the background of the interview proclaims in Welsh: “Gorau Chwarare Cyd Chwarae”, which translates to “Team play is the best game”. Players addressing the media are confronted with a banner reading “Our Earth. Our History, Our People”.
All but four of the players are based in Britain, so it’s a bit of a pain to get acclimated to the climate, which sees temperatures in the mid-80s Fahrenheit (high at 20 Celsius).
“If we win the first game, the confidence builds and hopefully it can take us a long way,” Cabango said.
Wales play Iran on Friday and then close out the group stage against England on November 29.
“We can’t wait for that game. I know we are looking at the United States first, obviously,” Cabango said. “There’s always bad blood between us and England every time we play.”
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