SIMON SHELDON TAKES A LOOK BACK AT WALES’ QUALIFICATION NEAR-MISSES OVER THE YEARS…
YOU have to feel for Welsh football fans as yet again their team gets so close to qualifying for the World Cup finals but misses out, this time after their 1-0 defeat to the Republic of Ireland.
It is now 60 years since their only appearance at the finals in Sweden 1958, where, of course, they reached the quarterfinals against Brazil.
Mind you, they almost didn’t make it then. They had come second in their qualifying group behind Czechoslovakia and thought the chance had gone.
But due to the politics of the Middle East, Israel had qualified without actually playing a match. Egypt and Sudan had refused to play against Israel following the Suez Crisis, whilst Indonesia would only play them on neutral ground.
FIFA proclaimed that Israel would win the group but insisted that they would have to play off against a team from Europe.
Thus, all the teams that had finished second in their groups were put in the draw to see who would get another chance to qualify in a two-legged match v Israel.
Belgium were drawn out but refused to participate so Wales were next to come out and were happy to play.
Wales, under manager Jimmy Murphy, went to Israel on January 15, 1958 and won 2-0. The second leg in Cardiff was on February 5 and the Welsh won 2-0 again to qualify for the finals.
Murphy also worked with Manchester United as assistant coach to Matt Busby and the second leg clashed with United’s trip to Belgrade for a European Cup tie.
Busby insisted that Murphy should stay with the Welsh squad and this meant he missed the Munich Tragedy.
After helping United cope with the aftermath and beginning the rebirth of Manchester United, Murphy took a strong Welsh squad including John Charles, Ivor Allchurch and Jack Kelsey to Sweden. Wales performed excellently in drawing all three group games against Hungary, Mexico and the hosts, Sweden.
Sweden won the group, leaving Wales and Hungary tied in second. In those days, FIFA did not use goal difference to separate the teams, so made the two sides play again.
Wales won 2-1 and moved on to the
quarterfinals and a match against Brazil. However, an injury to their best player John Charles meant he would miss the match.
Wales lost 1-0. The goal was scored by a 17-year-old who would go on to be the greatest player ever, Pele.
The 1960s and early 70s qualifying campaigns are easy to forget but reaching the quarter-finals in the 1976 European Championships (Wales had won their group but, at this time, the eight group winners would be drawn in twolegged quarter-finals with only the four winning teams going on to a finals tournament) before losing 3-1 to Yugoslavia on aggregate gave some hope to the upcoming qualifiers for Argentina 78.
In a group of three teams, Wales were drawn with Czechoslovakia and Scotland, knowing that the winners would automatically qualify for the finals.
Results against the Czechs left the group to be decided in the final match, Wales at home v Scotland.
Well, it was supposed to be at home. Because of crowd trouble, Wales could not use Ninian Park in Cardiff and, with the other possible grounds considered too small, the Welsh FA decided to stage the match at Liverpool’s Anfield in order to secure more money from a larger crowd.
A full house is what they got, but, unfortunately for Wales, the Tartan Army travelled down in force to outnumber their Welsh counterparts and so the scene was set.
It was a pulsating encounter with both sides creating chances but with the match approaching the final 15 minutes it remained goalless.
In the 78th minute Scotland striker Joe Jordan rose with Welsh defender David Jones to challenge for Asa Hartford’s long
throw into the Welsh penalty area and then, to the astonishment of everyone, the French referee Robert Wurtz awarded a penalty for handball by Jones.
Television replays clearly showed Jordan’s hand had flicked the ball towards the goal, but Wurtz had made his decision.
Don Masson coolly slotted the penalty past Dai Davies and with Kenny Dalglish on his home ground adding a second goal, the Welsh dream was over.
Mike England took over as manager for the 1982 qualifiers where they missed out on goal difference.
During the qualifiers for 1986, despite beating Spain 3-0, including a wonder goal from Mark Hughes, and winning 1- 0 at Hampden against Scotland, a defeat in Iceland meant they had to win at home against the Scots again. This time, Wales scored first through Hughes and continued to dominate and create chance after chance without getting that all- important second goal that probably would have clinched the win required. With time running out, the Scots brought on mercurial winger Davie Cooper to try and rescue a point which was all they needed to qualify. The ball was crossed into the penalty area and headed down by Graeme Sharp into the path of David Speedie whose shot was heading over the crossbar, but it struck defender David Phillips on the elbow and the referee awarded the penalty. The Welsh could not believe it, another controversial penalty like in 1977. Cooper took responsibility to take the spot- kick and struck the ball low and hard to his right. Despite Neville Southall getting his fingers to it, he couldn’t stop it from going in and the match ended in a 1-1 draw that will, sadly, be remembered for the death of Scotland manager Jock Stein who collapsed from a heart attack at the end of the game. The Nineties saw the Welsh put together a strong squad but injuries to key players affected their 1990 campaign. A good run of results gave hope of qualifying for the finals in 1994. A win at home in their final match against Romania was required. With the likes of star players Southall, Ian Rush, Gary Speed and Ryan Giggs playing under manager Terry Yorath, the score was level at 1-1 when Wales, who were dominating possession, were awarded a penalty when Speed was fouled in the box. This time Wales were awarded a penalty. Paul Bodin, usually a reliable penalty taker, stepped up and smashed the penalty against the bar with glory beckoning. With minutes remaining, Romania scored a late winner to break Welsh hearts again. Yorath was sacked and Wales went through a string of managers until Mark Hughes took over. They did get close to reaching the Euros in 2004, losing again in a play-off. Wales did not come close to qualifying in the next few tournaments. Gary Speed took charge in December 2010 and after some poor results at first, wins against Montenegro, Switzerland and Bulgaria saw Wales moving up the world rankings and, with some promising young players, things were looking good. Then a couple of weeks after a 4-1 win over Norway, tragically Speed was found dead at his home. His close friend Chris Coleman reluctantly took over as manager and they struggled in the 2014 qualifiers. But Coleman and his young team, with their star man Gareth Bale, stuck together and won their group to qualify for Euro 2016 in France. Wins over Slovakia and Russia saw them win the group and they then moved on to the last 16 and beat Northern Ireland. A marvellous 3-1 win against Belgium in the quarter-finals sealed a fabulous tournament that even a defeat by Portugal in the semifinals couldn’t ruin. The 2018 qualifying campaign started well, but too many drawn matches would ultimately be their undoing, culminating in that fateful winner-takes-all match against the Republic of Ireland. So, a history of near misses, controversial penalties and late goals continues.
REMEMBER THIS? Paul Bodin cracks his penalty against the crossbar against Romania in 1993
Pain: James McClean scores the Republic of Ireland’s winner and, inset, a devastated Aaron Ramsey
Wales XI who haven’t played at a World Cup