ARTICLE by Keane Webster.
PICTURE by David Jones/Getty Images.
OUR national team played its first competitive game all the way back in 1876, against Scotland in Glasgow (in what is the third oldest match in International football history). And, despite not gaining qualification for most major tournaments along the way since, it’s fair to say Wales have still enjoyed their fair share of iconic results up to now.
Here, I’ve picked out just some of my personal favourites that deserve a mention.
Wales 2 – 0 Israel – 05/02/1958
A win dating back to the our countries 1958 World cup heroes, Wales’ 2-0 win against Israel saw them qualify for their one and only World Cup tournament to date, emphasising the true significance of this fixture.
The second game of two legs, Wales came into the game already 2-0 up after winning in Israel a few weeks before.
After goals from Dave Bowen and Len Allchurch had put Wales in the driving seat in that one, qualification to the World Cup grew ever-closer when Ivor Allchurch opened the scoring for Wales in the second leg, before winger Cliff Jones added to the scoreline with 10 minutes remaining, to officially secure Wales’ spot at the 1958 World Cup finals. As mentioned above, this was their first and only time at a World Cup finals to date.
However, with Ryan Giggs’ new and ambitious squad, qualification to the next World Cup is looking far more realistic then it ever has done before.
Wales 0 – 1 Brazil – 19/06/1958
In the summer of 58’, Wales caused one of the biggest World Cup shocks ever by progressing all the way to the quarter-final in Sweden after beating Hungary in a play-off match as the two teams finished level on points in Group C.
Coming into their big quarter final match-up against the Brazilians, Wales had previously drawn three games in the group before the Play off match (against Hungary, Mexico and hosts Sweden) and despite only getting that one eventual win against Hungary, it was a victory that seemed to lift the hopes of every Welshman following the side.
However, before the game, Wales learnt that they would be without star striker John Charles due to an injury in the previous game. The Welsh side got into the half-time all square and comfortable, only for a 17 year old Pele (in his debut World Cup campaign) to break the hearts of the Welsh by scoring on 65mins, proving to be the only goal of the game.
With the game finishing as a loss, many people would not see this as an iconic fixture for our boys in red white and green but the fixture and stage the side reached is the side’s best achievement to date, alognside our semi-final finish in the European Championships in 2016.
Lets hope Giggs can lead our country to some World Cup delight in future after what promises to be, an exciting Euros campaign next summer.
Wales 2-1 Italy – 16/11/2002
Before the Euro 2016 win over Belgium (which will follow below), this was arguably Wales’ most famous victory, particularly as very few people would have expected it.
It was night of passionahead of this EURO 2004 qualifier in Cardiff – and Wales responded with a performance that matched the supporters mood.
A then-promising young Craig Bellamy created Wales’ opener for winger Simon Davies to slot home early on in the first half, but a deflected free-kick from superstar Alessandro Del Piero deceived goalkeeper Paul Jones and brought the score to 1-1 at HT. It was in the second half that the real magic happened.
The three-time World Cup winning Italians must have been stunned by the way that Wales came out and played in that second 45, as the home side were in complete control, and saw off good chances from Del Piero and Andrea Pirlo to keep the score level. The supporters were beginning to believe that something great might be happening.
And it certainly did when John Hartson, who played a blinder that day, slid the ball into Bellamy’s path for the striker to then out-pace the defence, go around goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, and tap the ball home for a famous victory which left John Charles, who was watching from the sidelines, in tears (as well as both sides of the 72,000 fans there watching that day but for different reasons!)
Line-ups: Wales: Paul Jones, Mark Delaney, Andy Melville, Daniel Gabbidon, Gary Speed, Simon Davies, Robbie Savage, Mark Pembridge, Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy, John Hartson.
Italy: Gianluigi Buffon, Christian Panucci, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta, Luciano Zauri, Luigi Di Biagio, Massimo Ambrosini, Andrea Pirlo, Damiano Tommasi, Alessandro Del Piero, Vincenzo Montella.
Wales 4 – 1 Norway – 12/11/2011
An international friendly game, but with a lot of meaning. Unaware to anybody at the time, Wales’ home win against Norway back in 2011 was to be ex player/manager Gary Speed’s final in game in charge of the Welsh side, before his tragic death followed only 16 days later.
Wales came into the game on good form beating both Bulgaria and Switzerland in qualification matches for the 2012 European Championships and hopes for the future of the side were high, only to be boosted further with this impressive home win.
In a game ruled mostly by Wales’ wide men, Craig Bellamy and Gareth Bale, it was an afternoon that got off to an electric start with the two wingers scoring inside the first 16 minutes. Bale’s seventh goal in nine club and country appearances and Bellamy’s wonder-strike really set the tone for an outstanding afternoon of football in the Welsh capital.
The second half saw the thrilling start to the game die down when Norway’s Erik Huseklepp pegged a goal back on 61mins, causing Welsh fans a bit of concern all around the Cardiff City stadium.
However , as the game grew older, Wales’ two goal gap was eventually restored when then 22-year-old substitute Sam Vokes’ put two goals past Norway keeper, Rune Jarstein (now a top goalkeeper for Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga).
Despite not being the most recognised game and not being against massive opposition, this game will always be remembered as Gary Speed’s last game of his inspiring Welsh managerial career.
Line-ups: Wales: Wayne Hennessey, Chris Gunter, Adam Matthews, Ashley Williams, Darcy Blake, Joe Allen, Andy Crofts, Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale, Craig Bellamy, Steve Morison.
Norway: Rune Jarstein, Espen Ruud, Kjetil Waehler, Brede Hangeland, John Arne Riise, Morten Gamst Pedersen, Alexander Tettey, Christian Grindheim, Ruben Yttergard Jenssen, Mohamed Abdellaoui, Erik Huseklepp.
Wales 3 – 1 Belgium – 01/01/2016
Where do you even start with this game ? It was match that offered a roller-coaster of emotions for every fan watching our boys that night.
The quarter finals of the European Championships against the second best team in the world at the time, Wales were underdogs and that was an understatement. Every media outlet doubted us, every other set of fans doubted us, but we believed, and so did our team.
After nipping our old rivals England to the top spot of the group we were in, and after going one step further then them in the group stages, excitement and belief ran through the veins of every Welsh supporter.
Things got off to a bad start, as within the first 13mins, Wales found themselves trailing 1-0 after a thunderous 25 yard strike from Belgium midfielder Radja Nainggolan which beat goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey al ends up.
However, Wales soon pegged a goal back when captain Ashley Williams rose up from a well-worked corner, heading home past Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois, putting welsh fans into stratospheric levels of celebrations in the process.
Going into halftime, the Welsh were just happy to still be in the game, but little did we know, we were going to be partying and celebrating all night long come the end of the game.
On 55mins, Hal Robson-Kanu’s divine turn and tidy finish put Wales in front, and excitement levels were through the roof, with the Welsh supporters making the Stade Pierre Mauroy their own.
After exactly half an hour of nervousness and last ditch defending, all anxiousness was officially put to rest when Sam Vokes rose high to head home from a pinpoint Chris Gunter cross to make it 3-1 Wales.
A night that will never be forgotten by any Welshman or Belgian in that case, this game will forever stand as one of football’s greatest ever upsets at a major tournament, and I wouldn’t put it against our side to create more unbelievable and unforgettable memories in the 2021 European Championships either.
Line-ups: Wales: Wayne Hennessey, Chris Gunter, Ashley Williams, Ben Davies, James Chester, Neil Taylor, Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Ledley, Gareth Bale, Hal Robson-Kanu.
Belgium: Thibaut Courtois, Jordan Lukaku, Thomas Meunier, Jordan Denayer, Toby Alderweireld, Radja Nainggolan, Aexl Witsel, Yannick Carrasco, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku.