Wales on the brink of history 57 years on from their last international tournament

Posted on 08th October 2015


A hat-trick from a widely unknown 17-year-old in the semi-final with France was followed by a brace in the final against hosts Sweden. The year was 1958, with the teenager in question inspiring Brazil to their first ever World Cup and kick-starting a spell of dominance that would see the Selecao triumph in two of the next three editions of football’s biggest tournament.

Things could have been very different, though: Pele, the young striker who wowed the watching public that summer in Scandinavia, went on to establish himself as one of the greatest footballers to have ever played the game, but even the man himself later acknowledged that his winning goal in the narrow 1-0 win over Wales in the first knockout round game was the most important he ever scored. Having begun the tournament sidelined with a knee injury, that strike guaranteed Pele’s place in the team for the encounters with France and Sweden that did so much for his personal profile.

A man of the Brazilian’s extraordinary talent would surely have made his mark at some point in the future anyway, but it is interesting that Pele highlights the clash with Wales as integral to the magnificent career he went on to have.

“It was a difficult game but I have good memories as I scored the goal that took Brazil to the semi-finals and, eventually, led us to win the Cup,” he later said. “That goal gave me confidence. Wales marked very tightly at the back and I remember getting the ball, turning and squeezing it into the corner of the net. I consider it the most important goal I’ve ever scored – it gave me the confidence to continue my career.”

On the other side of the coin, Wales were somewhat unfortunate to lose. John Charles, the legendary former Leeds United, Juventus and Cardiff City striker, was missing through injury, with many of his team-mates believing that the presence of the burly frontman could have made the difference. 57 years on, Wales have yet to appear in another major international tournament.

All of that could be about to change, however: Chris Coleman’s side, who lead Group B in qualification for next summer’s European Championship in France, require just a single point from their final two games with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Andorra to reach the competition proper.

It has been a truly fantastic campaign for the Welsh. Critics of the expansion of the Euros from 16 teams to 24 have argued that the inclusion of eight more sides will lead to a dilution in quality as smaller nations sneak in through the back door; Wales, though, currently top their group and would therefore be on course to qualify under the old format too.

Gareth Bale has clearly been pivotal to their progress – Wales are now ranked eighth in the world after finding themselves in 117th place in 2011 – but labelling them a one-man team is harsh. Indeed, the fact that Coleman’s charges have kept five consecutive clean sheets and conceded no goals from open play in eight matches is evidence of their terrific defensive organisation and commitment, while the former Fulham and Real Sociedad boss also deserves praise for finding a system and approach that gets the best out of the Real Madrid star – after all, despite Ryan Giggs’ exploits at the highest level for Manchester United, his country were never able to successfully build a competitive team around him.

Wales are almost certain to reach Euro 2016 given that Andorra await next Tuesday, but the Dragons will be desperate to confirm their qualification as soon as possible with a draw against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday.

The whole of Wales will be watching the drama unfold in Sarajevo, hoping that their nation completes what would be a remarkable accomplishment. Somewhere in Brazil, maybe even Pele will be following the action with interest.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball



Lead your favourite team to glory in Soccer Manager 22