1958 World Cup: Wales' Finest Hour
|Welsh 1958 XI|
The 1958 World Cup provides the United Kingdom with quite an anomaly, as all four home nations (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) qualified for the final draw in Sweden. Amongst the British contingent was holders West Germany, twice winners Uruguay and favourites, the 1950 runners-up, Brazil with seventeen year-old Edson Arantes do Nascimento, also known as Pelé at the forefront of their plans for global victory.
England had qualified for the World Cup twice before, in the 1950 and '54 tournaments, losing famously to the United States in the former before defeat at the hands of reigning champions Uruguay in 1954 a year after their 6-3 and 7-1 drubbings at the hands of Ferenc Puskas' Hungary. Scotland had also qualified in 1954 only to be comprehensively beaten 5-0 by again Uruguay in a group stage in which they failed to gain a point. Northern Ireland were also competing in their first World Cup finals following topping a group containing Italy and Portugal.
|USA 1-0 England|
As far as qualifying was concerned the Welsh road to Sweden has to be one of the most unusual in living memory. Following a second place finish to Czechoslovakia in Group 4, a campaign which included a 4-1 thrashing of East Germany, the Welsh looked to have missed out on qualifying. However, Middle-Eastern tensions meant Sudan, Indonesia and Egypt were reluctant to play Israel following the Suez Crisis - Israel were awarded the title of "Group Winners" by default. From the European nations lots were drawn to determine who would play Israel in a play-off. Belgium were drawn initially only to refuse participation, in doing so leaving FIFA with Wales as the next eligible nation. The Welsh won the two-legged tie 4-0 and qualified for their maiden World Cup. - (How the teams qualified)
The other British nations had mixed fortunes in Scandinavia. Northern Ireland progressed to the last 8 after a play-of victory over Czechoslovakia, whilst England and Scotland both exited at the group stage. England drawn alongside Brazil, USSR and Austria lost out via the play-offs to the Soviet Union, but managed to play out the first ever goalless draw in World Cup finals history, 0-0 with a Vava inspired Brazil. Scotland only managed a point from a group containing a French side offering the likes of Madrid's Raymond Kopa and Stade Reims' Moroccan-born Just Fontaine who went on to score 13 goals at the finals, a record to this day.
Brazil would meet the Welsh in the quarter-finals in front of 25,000 at the Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg. Brazil had entered the World Cup seeking to collect the Jules Rimet trophy for the first time, having gone so close in 1950 before losing to Uruguay at the Maracana. The previous World Cup saw them lose to the Might Magyars 4-2 in a violent affair dubbed at the time, "The Battle of Bern." At the front of the South-American's attack was the 17-year-old Pelé who was yet to score at the tournament. Vava had been stealing the limelight scoring 2 goals against the USSR in the group stages.
Wales entered the game as huge underdogs, with Brazil expected to roll over the side depleted of their star man John Charles through injury. It was Pelé who would score the only goal of the game, his first internationally, becoming the youngest ever World Cup scorer in the process. The goal came in the 66th minute, around the same time Northern Ireland were found 4-0 down to Fontaine's France. After the game Jimmy Murphy was recalled as saying "with John Charles in the side we might have won".
|Pelé takes on the Welsh|
Despite near misses in 2003 as well as twenty-six years previous when Joe Jordan's "handiwork" resulted in a 1-0 victory for Scotland at Anfield before the 1978 World Cup, the future for Welsh football looks bright. Cardiff City have recently joined Capital One Cup winners Swansea in England's top flight whereas Newport County have reached the Football League for the first time 25 years. The national team has also began to show signs of re-emergence following the arrival of Chris Coleman after Gary Speed's tragic passing. The back-to-back victories over Scotland have breathed new fire into the Welsh team and with an array of talent including PFA Player of the Year Gareth Bale, Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey and Liverpool's Joe Allen it is surely only a matter of time before the heroics of 1958 are repeated!
|The Future's Bright!|