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Penalties, passports and floodlights: Wales’ painful World Cup history

Jonny Williams disappointed as Wales miss out on qualification
Jonny Williams slumps to the floor after Wales miss out on qualification for the 2018 World Cup
Men’s World Cup qualifier play-off final: Wales v Ukraine
Venue: Cardiff City Stadium Date: Sunday, 5 June Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 Live, Radio Wales, Radio Cymru, BBC Sport website and app, plus live text online. Highlights on BBC One Wales from 22:30 BST and later on demand

Few need to be told that it has been quite some wait for Wales when it comes to the World Cup.

By the time Gareth Bale and team-mates line up against Ukraine on Sunday in Cardiff, it will be just shy of 64 years since Wales appeared on football’s biggest stage.

This play-off campaign is the closest the national side has come to making it in almost three decades.

BBC Sport Wales takes a look at past qualification campaigns, and how close Wales have come on several occasions.

With the road to Qatar the 19th men’s World Cup campaign for Wales, only Finland, Israel and Luxembourg have made more qualifying attempts with such little reward. Whether those nations have had the same drama is another matter.

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While tales of Romanian crossbars and suspicions of Scottish handballs may be familiar, the full details of the wait since 1958 show just how agonising it has been, with seven occasions where Wales fell in the final two games.

Because since Sweden and that solitary appearance, Wales’ World Cup history has been a cruel mix of heartache, hard-luck stories and – sometimes – humiliation.

Year – 1962. Manager – Jimmy Murphy

Opponents: Spain

Ever wondered why Wales couldn’t follow up one major finals with another? Well, four years on from a teenage Pele ending Wales’ World Cup at the quarter-final stage, it was another great who put paid to Welsh hopes.

When other group members Austria and Denmark withdrew from qualifying, Wales were left to face Spain over two legs for the right to reach a play-off with an African qualifier.

And, just as in Sweden, Wales were left without the legendary John Charles – denied permission to play by Juventus – while injury also robbed them of Tottenham wing supreme Cliff Jones.

Despite taking the lead at Ninian Park, Wales succumbed to Spain with Real Madrid’s Alfredo di Stefano – already a goalscorer and winner in five European Cup finals – turning things around with 12 minutes to play.

It meant Wales needed victory in front of a 100,000 Bernabeu crowd a fortnight later, something that eluded Jimmy Murphy’s side who fell behind and, despite the heroics of goalkeeper Jack Kelsey and an equaliser from Ivor Allchurch, Wales’ bid for Chile was over.

Year – 1966. Manager – Dave Bowen

Opponents: Denmark, Greece, USSR

Wales' Ivor Allchurch
Ivor Allchurch scored two goals for Wales at the 1958 Fifa World Cup in Sweden

England’s party happened without Wales who paid for a poor start, including a defeat by a then lowly Greece side.

The exit was all but confirmed with a narrow defeat by the USSR in Moscow with two games remaining, a trip that reportedly saw Allchurch left behind in duty free at the airport, Cliff Jones forget his boots and John Charles call time on his international career.

Year – 1970. Manager – Dave Bowen

Opponents: East Germany, Italy

Embarrassing episodes followed Wales into a poor 1970 campaign, including the infamous occasion when winger Gil Reece was left behind as FAW councillors refused to give up a seat on an overbooked flight. With East Germany and would-be finalists Italy the opponents, the bid for Mexico never got off the ground, with Wales finishing pointless.

Year – 1974. Manager – Dave Bowen

Opponents: England, Poland

One of those ‘what could have been’ campaigns as a draw at Wembley and a home win over Poland set up the chance to qualify in Katowice. Instead, having initially forgotten his passport, Trevor Hockey became the first man sent off for Wales in a hostile game, Bowen’s side going down 3-0 as the Poles went on to qualify at England’s expense.

Year – 1978. Manager – Mike Smith

Opponents: Czechoslovakia, Scotland

Joe Jordan of Scotland against Wales
Joe Jordan won 52 caps for Scotland, scoring 11 goals

The side that reached the last eight of the 1976 European Championship had a genuine chance of making it to Argentina after a 3-0 win over the Czechs in Wrexham.

Victory over Scotland would see Wales only needing to avoid a three-goal defeat in Prague. It wasn’t to be.

With safety restrictions limiting crowds at Ninian Park and the Racecourse, the FAW made the unpopular decision to take the game to Anfield where the Tartan Army turned the ground into Hampden on Merseyside.

John Toshack was denied by a brilliant Alan Rough save before the moment that still angers Wales fans of a certain vintage as David Jones was penalised for a handball seemingly committed by Scotland striker Joe Jordan, who promptly kissed his sleeve – ‘The Hand of Jaws’.

Don Masson dispatched the penalty, Kenny Dalglish scored a second as Wales chased an equaliser, Scotland qualified and a grudge was born, with shellshocked Wales losing their final match to the Czechs to finish bottom for good measure.

Year – 1982. Manager – Mike England

Opponents: Czechoslovakia, Iceland, Turkey, USSR

There may have been greater controversies in Wales’ World Cup history, but this was arguably the best chance blown.

Wales had won their first four games before a creditable home draw with the USSR left them needing a win and a draw from their final three games – which included a home game with Iceland.

A 2-0 defeat in Prague set things up at Swansea where the hosts went 1-0 up through Robbie James – only for the momentum to be halted as the Vetch Field floodlights failed just before half-time.

Twice Iceland came from behind to draw 2-2 with many blaming the stoppage, while the visitors claimed they had been motivated by midfielder Mickey Thomas appearing in a tabloid newspaper with a chimp mask claiming Wales would make monkeys out of their opponents.

One month later, the joke was on Wales as they lost 3-0 in Tbilisi.

Hope remained if the Soviets could beat the Czechs in the final game, only for the two Eastern Bloc nations to play out a 1-1 draw to reach Spain and leave Wales out on goal difference.

Year – 1986. Manager – Mike England

Opponents: Iceland, Scotland, Spain

Davie Cooper of Scotland beats Welsh Goalkeeper Neville Southall
Wales won just four of 10 games played at Ninian Park between January 1977 and June 1985

Another Scotland sob story as an iconic Wales side – in an iconic kit – fell at the last once more.

Wins over Iceland and at Hampden before a 3-0 success against Spain – featuring that Mark Hughes volley – meant victory against the Scots at Ninian Park in Wales’ final fixture would be enough to book a play-off with Australia.

Mexico beckoned when Hughes opened the scoring, only for another penalty for another handball to cue the tears as David Phillips blocked a shot from close range and Davie Cooper scored from 12 yards.

A draw was good enough for Scotland to leave Wales hoping for an unlikely Icelandic draw in Seville a fortnight later.

Despite taking the lead, the minnows were beaten 2-1 and Wales were out on goal difference. Again.

Year – 1990. Manager – Terry Yorath

Opponents: Finland, Netherlands, West Germany

Up against the European champions and the world champions elect, Wales never stood a chance, even with Ian Rush, Neville Southall et al in their ranks. A goalless draw with West Germany in the first football game at the National Stadium was as good as it got as Wales finished bottom.

Year – 1994. Manager – Terry Yorath

Opponents: Belgium, Cyprus, Faroe Islands, RCS, Romania

Georghe Hagi of Romania against Wales' Paul Bodin
Gheorghe Hagi (right) scored Romania’s first goal against Wales in the campaign’s decisive game

The one many thought was meant to be, although not after the opening game – a 5-1 defeat in Bucharest.

Still, going Into the final game, Wales were the British side with the best chance of reaching the United States.

A win over Romania was needed and when Wales bounced back to level and then had a penalty awarded for a foul on Gary Speed in the 63rd minute, it all seemed on.

Unfortunately, there are some Wales fans who can still hear the clang of Paul Bodin’s smashed spot-kick hitting the crossbar. The visitors, who only needed a draw, made doubly sure as Florin Raducioiu wrapped up the win with seven minutes to go.

Romania reached the quarter-finals, Wales stayed at home.

Year – 1998. Manager – Bobby Gould

Opponents: Belgium, Netherlands, San Marino, Turkey

Neville Southall and Vinnie Jones
Wales did not win in any of Vinnie Jones’ nine international games – drawing three and losing six

A new manager and a new low.

Wales warmed up for the campaign with a 2-1 defeat by Leyton Orient.

It didn’t get much better. Supposed winner of a secret ballot to pick the captain, Vinnie Jones led Wales out to a 7-1 defeat in Eindhoven, with only Southall preventing an even bigger defeat.

Qualification was already long gone by the time they also conceded six in Turkey.

Year – 2002. Manager – Mark Hughes

Opponents: Armenia, Belarus, Poland, Norway, Ukraine

An unglamorous group that never really offered hope of glory, especially after a 2-1 defeat in Belarus to kick things off. There were decent draws with eventual qualifiers Poland and Ukraine as Wales became hard to beat. Wales’ only win of the campaign came in their final game against Belarus.

Year – 2006. Manager – Mark Hughes/John Toshack

Opponents: Austria, Azerbaijan, England, Northern Ireland, Poland

David Beckham celebrates scoring against Wales with Michael Owen
Frank Lampard and David Beckham scored as England beat Wales 2-0 at Old Trafford in October 2004

After missing out on the 2004 Euros in the play-offs, expectations were high before reality-check draws with Azerbaijan and Northern Ireland were followed by defeats by England and Poland and the departure of Hughes, the manager, and Speed, the captain.

It ushered in the Toshack era, that did at least end a run without wins, but still saw Wales only above bottom seeds Azerbaijan in the table.

Year – 2010. Manager – John Toshack

Opponents: Azerbaijan, Finland, Germany, Liechtenstein, Russia

Uncomfortable wins over minnows and narrow but never-in-the-game defeats meant that qualification was over by the time Wales were booed off after a 2-0 defeat by Finland five games in.

At least there was the emergence of a new generation.

Year – 2014. Manager – Chris Coleman.

Opponents: Belgium, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Scotland

Scoreboard shows Wales' 6-1 defeat to Serbia
Wales 6-1 defeat away against Serbia was their heaviest defeat since 1996

A difficult campaign for reasons other than the norm as Wales struggled to cope with the tragedy of losing Speed less than a year before starting the campaign.

Chris Coleman considered quitting after a 6-1 defeat in Serbia that effectively ended qualification hopes before they started, while the manager also joined the ranks of those who forgot passports prior to being beaten in Macedonia.

Yet two wins over Scotland and a campaign-ending draw in Brussels offered hope.

Year – 2018. Manager – Chris Coleman

Opponents: Austria, Georgia, Moldova, Republic of Ireland, Serbia

Aaron Ramsey dejected after defeat
Wales drew 0-0 away to Republic of Ireland before suffering defeat in Cardiff

The Euros had ended the qualification curse and Wales were top seeds.

Too many draws undid the good work – including at home with Georgia – only for a three-match winning run to light hopes going into the final fixture at home with the Republic of Ireland.

Automatic qualification was dependent on results elsewhere, but victory would guarantee play-offs at a ground where Wales had not lost a competitive game in four years.

But with Gareth Bale already injured and Joe Allen knocked out of the game, a James McLean strike was enough for the Irish to progress and Wales added another four years to their wait.

So close and yet so far, as it has so often been for 64 years. With the World Cup now just one win away, the question is whether history will be rewritten or repeated.

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