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Gary Speed made us think anything was possible, says Wales star Aaron Ramsey

Aaron Ramsey says Gary Speed will be firmly in the thoughts of the squad and coaching staff when Wales kick-start their World Cup campaign against the United States of America on Monday.

Speed played a pivotal role in the Red Dragons' exit from the doldrums before his tragic death in 2011. Players have regularly spoken about Speed's determination to improve the behind-the-scenes set-up at the Football Association of Wales, with significant tweaks being vital to Wales' rise up from 117th in the FIFA world rankings.

Ahead of his country's first World Cup appearance since 1958, Nice star Ramsey has discussed his pride at achieving the major target Speed set the players more than a decade ago by qualifying for the Qatar showpiece.

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"Gary is always in our thoughts with everything that we have done," said the 31-year-old. "He was the one who got things moving for us. He definitely got us ready for these experiences that we have had.

"He will forever be in our thoughts and definitely again on Monday before our first game because that was one of the targets that he set when he first came in was to qualify for that World Cup.

"We didn't manage to do so but this makes it even more special that we have actually gone on to do that now. Gary had this way about him that you would believe anything that he would say. He was a leader.

"He was absolutely brilliant and convinced us all. From where we were to where we got to in that short space of time was remarkable, really. Anything was possible."

Ramsey has gone on to amass 75 caps for his country since making his international bow against Denmark 14 years ago. As with captain Gareth Bale, Ramsey has been plagued by injuries in recent years but has still made a significant impact for his country, despite his frequent struggles to play regularly at club level.

Indeed, the pair produced a vintage display as Rob Page's side defeated Turkey 2-0 at Euro 2020 little more than a year ago, with Ramsey - who is sixth on Wales men's all-time list of goal scorers - netting the opener in Baku as Bale claimed a pair of assists. Ramsey is confident that his country's dynamic duo still have the ability to tear up defences in Qatar.

"Of course, I still feel like I am more than capable of producing performances," he said. "I never doubt my ability. For me, it's about trying to help my team as much as I can to have a successful tournament. I'm really looking forward to it and hopefully I can be in good form and help the team get out of the group.

"We all know about Baleo. I love having that opportunity to play with him in this Wales shirt. We have grown up together, we've been through all different age groups and things like that so we understand each other and we just try to go out there and try to represent our country as best as we can. We try to help as much as we can individually and as a team to try and achieve our goals. It's just a joy to play with him and be a part of this with him."

USA and Iran are undoubtedly fixtures where Wales will target positive results ahead of their final group stage contest against England. The Red Dragons have lost in each of their last six meetings with the Three Lions, with the most recent competitive fixture seeing Wales suffer defeat in agonising fashion to Roy Hodgson's side at Euro 2016.

Ramsey is keen to avoid a repeat of that Lens showdown when Wales battle it out with Gareth Southgate's troops at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium later this month.

"It was probably one of the frustrating performances that we had in that tournament," the former Arsenal, Cardiff City and Juventus man said of the Euro 2016 contest between the sides. "Obviously, we scored the goal early and it was a game where we wanted to protect that lead and try and hold on.

"We came very close to doing that but ultimately you are going to be under pressure for long periods of the game. These things can happen. But it made it very clear for us going into the last game that we had to go out and win - and we certainly did that against Russia."

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