Wales striker Kieffer Moore is only 28 but has already lived many lives. He once worked as a lifeguard while playing for Truro City back in 2012; then, two years ago, was nearly forced into retirement after fracturing his skull having being knocked unconscious for eight minutes while playing for Barnsley. Now he's scoring goals in a major international tournament for his country.
Wales were comfortably outplayed in their Euro 2020 opener against Switzerland in Baku, but Moore's headed goal in the second half -- combined with some stellar goalkeeper from Danny Ward -- saw them grab an equaliser after Breel Embolo's goal shortly after half-time to save a 1-1 draw.
The Cardiff City striker must be used to serendipity by now. Standing at 6-foot-5, he's far more than a mere target man. Labelling him the outlet for "hit it and hope" football would be a gross disservice to his talent, given he's scored 20 times in the Championship this season.
But when he clashed heads with Switzerland defender Kevin Mbabu in the first half, to see a trickle of red down his forehead, he would have been forgiven for thinking back to that night in February 2019. A collision with Gillingham's Gabriel Zakuani while contesting a high ball left him with a fractured temporal bone, and blood dripping from his ear. Medics mentioned to him that retirement could be an outcome from his brutal injury, but just four months later he returned to finish the season at Barnsley.
On a sizzling Saturday afternoon in Azerbaijan, Moore was bloodied again yet stayed on the pitch, bandaged but undeterred, and ended up being Wales' hero. When the team finally played to his strengths in the 74th minute, he pounced. A neat short corner saw Joe Morrell drop the ball on Moore's head for the striker to power a header past goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
Moore has gatecrashed this side. Wales manager Rob Page, who took over from Ryan Giggs on an interim basis in November 2020, had favoured a false No. 9 formation. Page has put his own stamp on this side, but Moore's form has caused a rethink, with Wales lining up in a 4-2-3-1 against the Swiss with him as a traditional centre-forward.
"He's been terrific at international and club level -- he poses a threat, his link up play is very good and he's a willing runner, and when you have those attributes as a centre-forward, he's thoroughly deserved his goal," Page said afterwards. Moore was protected by Page in the build-up to Euro 2020 with his game time kept to a minimum in the warm-ups -- he'd already done enough to prove his case to the boss.
"It was tough," Moore said afterwards. "But, I'm not going to lie, this is a big occasion and I've loved every second of it." Moore's second-half goal was one of the brief instances where Wales clicked. For so much of the game they were unable to keep possession, let alone carve out clear-cut chances. Man United winger Daniel James was their best outlet down the left, while captain Gareth Bale was unable to get into the game and had the second-least touches out of any Wales player in the first half.
Wales were simply unable to play to their strengths: too often passes were intercepted or inaccurate. They have to correct these errors, and find a way to get Bale into the match more, if they are to replicate their semifinal run at Euro 2016. But this is an altogether different team than that of five years ago. That run in 2016 saw them emerge from the wilderness and become a known quantity in European football, rather than the plucky underdogs we grew to love. Moore will also be a watched man now with Turkey and Italy lying in wait.
Still, Switzerland will wonder how they didn't win this match as they had 18 shots in total and 72% possession in the first half. Borussia Monchengladbach striker Embolo scored a header from a corner just after half-time to give Vladimir Petkovic's side a deserved lead and, although Moore had a first-half header well saved by Sommer, Switzerland carved out the more promising chances throughout the game -- Haris Seferovic fired over, while Embolo teed up Mbabu for a great opportunity and headed over the bar from close range himself.
But Petkovic's decision to take midfield creator Xherdan Shaqiri off inadvertently let Wales get a foothold, or at least a toehold. Switzerland had pressed superbly throughout, but dropped deeper with replacement Denis Zakaria brought into midfield.
They were also thwarted by an excellent performance from Wales goalkeeper Ward, who last played a league match in 2017. The 27-year-old has been behind Kasper Schmeichel at Leicester, but is profiting from Page's policy of picking on form in key positions, having impressed against France in their warm-up match. Ward didn't let anyone down in Azerbaijan, producing two stunning saves off Embolo and Fabian Schar in the first half. "That's my job," he said in a wonderful understated way afterwards.
Wales also had to rely on what Page called "Lady Luck" in the latter stages when Mario Gavranovic's strike was, correctly, ruled out for offside via VAR.
But Wales will need more than luck if they are to emulate their successes from five years ago. Turkey, buoyed by what is expected to be about 25,000 fans in Baku, will be looking to bounce back from their defeat to Italy on Friday, while the Azzurri will be hoping to cement their status as one of the favourites for the tournament after their 3-0 opening night win.
Wales lacked cohesion here, but not a lack of effort. Page will look to this as a positive step forward in their hopes of making the knockouts and said afterwards: "It feels like a win in the changing room -- that's the start we were after."
About 500 Wales fans travelled to Azerbaijan, in spite of government advice to the contrary. Wales rode the wave of support in 2016 and, while there were more disparate bricks of red shirts in the vast Olympic Stadium in Baku, you could hear Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau and other anthems seeping through to bring back memories of 2016.
Back then, Moore had just finished up a season with Forest Green Rovers and was watching Wales' incredible run from home, recovering from a ruptured appendix. Five years on, he's Wales' hero and, whatever happens in the next games, has etched another chapter in his remarkable underdog story.