A YEAR is a long time in football they say and Joe Allen could be the poster boy for that particular cliché.
Twelve months ago Allen had never started a game for his country and had experienced just 180 minutes of football in the top flight with newly-promoted Swansea City.
Often dismissed because of his size and very much a peripheral figure internationally, Allen has come to the fore after a magnificent debut season in the Premier League.
Both he and Swansea exceeded expectations last term and now the midfielder is a pivotal figure for his country and worth £15 million having moved to Anfield to play for Liverpool under ex-Swans boss Brendan Rodgers.
It’s a meteoric rise for Allen and has parallels with the rapid ascension of Friday’s opponents Belgium as Wales get their World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign under way.
With stars like Eden Hazard shining brighter than ever, Belgium are an emerging force.
However, Allen believes Wales’ progress having risen to 37th in the world shouldn’t be overlooked ahead of a fascinating opener.
"There is a massive feeling of excitement, a new campaign and a fresh start and we want to make our mark in the group with a positive result on Friday," he explained.
"It’s natural to sometimes focus on the opposition and the stars they have, but we’ve got talent in our team and need to remember that, but we know it’s going to be a very tough encounter.
"There is often talk about who Wales are facing and who they’ve got, but we’ve got players at big clubs.
"Belgium or any opposition will know they are in for a tough game against Wales. We don’t fear anyone."
Allen admits the loss of injury victims Neil Taylor and Craig Bellamy will dent Wales’ hopes but is hopeful their supporters can provide an advantage.
"Everyone knows Neil Taylor and Craig Bellamy are big players for us but injuries happen in football, you cope with that and overcome it and I am sure whoever comes in will give 100 per cent," he said.
"We need the public, they can be massively influential, we need them to back us vocally and make Cardiff a tough place for the opposition to travel to. They can play a part."
Allen is hopeful he’s easing into the transition of playing for a big club like Liverpool.
"There is added pressure having made the move to Liverpool but I had the experience of the Olympics which was a help in terms of starting the Premier League season and I’m just trying to give my best, I can’t do more than that," he explained.
"The level of faith that has been shown in me (by Liverpool) is flattering and is only going to help my confidence on the football pitch.
"You have to have massive belief, bordering on arrogance to be a top player and that’s something you have to cope with in football."
Meanwhile, Boaz Myhill insists he is ready to fill the Wales goalkeeper's jersey in Friday's opening World Cup qualifier against Belgium.
The West Brom stopper is set to take the space left by Wayne Henn-essey’s continuing recovery from a cruciate ligament injury, as Wales face the daunting challenge of taking on Vincent Kompany, Hazard, Marouane Fellaini and co.
He said: "I feel great, I have trained well today and I had a game in midweek last week so I am fine and ready to go.
"As a player you want to play, nobody gets into the game to sit on the bench and not play regular football but I am feeling well prepared and really that is all you can do as a a player."