Few Welsh fans can remember their last World Cup campaign, and even fewer have seen a Welsh team like this.
Previous World Cup appearances: 1
better finish: Quarterfinals (1958)
World Cup record: G1 P1 E3
biggest win: 2-1 against Hungary (1958)
player to watch: Gareth Bale
Accessories: USA (November 21), Iran (November 25), England (November 29)
It has been 64 long years since Pelé’s first World Cup goal ended the Welsh campaign in 1958.
Football fell out of fashion, especially in the rugby-playing heartland of Wales, as fans endured decades of disappointment.
But something changed in 2016. And it was nothing less than the rise of a new golden generation. Led by former Real Madrid and Tottenham superstar Gareth Bale, these new Welsh gladiators Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Wayne Hennessey recaptured the hearts and imaginations of the nation when they reached the Euro 2016 semi-final.
Four years later, a run to the Euro 2020 quarter-finals did nothing to put out the fires they had stoked at home. Suddenly it seemed that Wales could play football.
The roots of this success go back much further, with many pointing to hard-working and honest Gary Speed’s tenure as manager as the catalyst for Wales’s changing fortunes.
In the four years since his untimely death in 2011, Wales rose 109 places in the rankings, from 117th to eighth.
“Gary started this 12 or 13 years ago, and the changes he made, the professionalism he brought, he led by those standards,” former Watford captain Rob Page, who has managed Wales since November 2020, said at a meeting in the Senedd. the welsh parliament I see that in Gareth [Bale] how do you drive today?
— A league of its own (@ALOTO) September 9, 2022
Wales faced a tough European qualifying campaign under Page to reach Qatar, but finished second in a group that included world-ranked second-ranked Belgium and the Czech Republic.
Playoff victories over Austria and Ukraine followed in front of jubilant home crowds, and Wales were booking their flights to Doha.
While Page is taking a team with a wealth of experience to Qatar, he has to suspect that these may be some of the last internationals played by this group. Luckily for Page, and the rest of Wales, he has 21-year-old Brennan Johnson to provide him with fresh legs when the more experienced players tire, and to build continuity for the future.
Watch your name on the scorecard in Qatar.
Facing England, USA and Iran in their group, Wales have high hopes of reaching the round of 16. If they can keep their veterans injury-free, they’ll have a chance to make more progress.
Regardless of what happens in Qatar, there is a new pride in Wales in booking their place in the World Cup.
“Yma o hyd, sons of Speed,” actor Michael Sheen told the crew. “As they fall around us, we are still here!”
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