Wales’ Golden Generation fulfil their potential by ending World Cup exile as England showdown looms

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Wales’ Golden Generation fulfil their potential by ending World Cup exile as England showdown looms
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Monday, November 21, 2022. That is the date which all Wales fans will this morning have been circling in their diaries, the day on which their team — their country — will face the USA in Qatar and, in doing so, end a 64-year World Cup hiatus.

By then, 23,532 days will have passed since Wales’s exit from the 1958 tournament at the hands of Pele’s Brazil in Gothenburg, a quarter-final that the current crop of players’ parents won’t even be able to remember.

Wales needed a play-off to reach that tournament, too, punching their ticket to Sweden with a 4-0 aggregate thrashing of an Israel side who only got that far because their previous opponents refused to face them as part of an Arab League boycott.

Victory yesterday at a rain-sodden Cardiff City Stadium over a Ukraine spurred on by raw emotion but visibly hampered late on by sheer exhaustion, was rather more hard-won, the visitors having a first-half goal disallowed and a huge penalty shout turned down before captain Andriy Yarmolenko headed Gareth Bale’s free-kick into his own net.

It is little wonder that Bale quickly dubbed it “the greatest result in Welsh football history” and hailed “the final piece of the jigsaw” for a generation of talent that would, for all the heroics of their Euro 2016 run, have left their potential unfulfilled without delivering a return to the biggest tournament of them all.

Wales beat Ukraine 1-0 in Cardiff to reach the World Cup finals for the first time since 1958 (REUTERS)
Wales beat Ukraine 1-0 in Cardiff to reach the World Cup finals for the first time since 1958 (REUTERS)

They go into a World Cup group from which qualification looks eminently achievable, with Iran in wait after that opener against the US and then a potentially crucial final game against England.

Tuesday, November 29 is the date that fans of the rival home nations will be bookmarking and, one suspects, with contrasting levels of enthusiasm.

These types of fixtures so often belie gulfs in world rankings or major tournament prowess and it will not have been only out of sympathy for the war effort against Russia that England fans were yesterday willing on a Ukraine side they thumped 4-0 in a Euro quarter-final just 12 months ago.

The Three Lions did prevail when they met Wales at Euro 2016, but it was not a match that their supporters can have enjoyed one jot until the moment Daniel Sturridge struck in injury time to claim what might have gone down as a famous win had it not been so swiftly overshadowed by the Iceland debacle.

Similarly, at last summer’s Euros, a group-stage ‘derby’ against Scotland in the Wembley rain proved a miserable, nervy affair; a goalless draw prompting an immediate backlash and heavy criticism of Gareth Southgate’s supposed conservatism, albeit forgotten by the time Germany were downed at the same venue 10 days later.

Wales reach historic FIFA World Cup 2022

England manager Southgate will be confident that his side have learnt from the experience of that kind of occasion, which was a novel one to so many of his young side, and also hope they can follow the example of Russia four years ago in taking advantage of a kind fixture list to have a place in the last-16 secured before what is likely to be the most awkward of their three matches comes around.

Whatever the stakes around knockout qualification by then, the tie will offer a chance at a first win over England since 1984 for a Wales side making a habit of ending long waits.

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