What World Cup qualification means to Wales as 64 years of hurt finally comes to an end

Pele was only 17 the last time Wales played in a match at a World Cup.

We know this because he scored the winner.

That 1-0 quarter-final defeat to Brazil in Sweden has loomed over Wales for over six decades. Every football fan born and educated in the country is aware of it, with the years between the Gothenburg fixture and the next appearance on the global football stage growing by the year.

By 1977 and the controversial defeat to Scotland at Anfield it was 19 years since the last World Cup.

By 1993 and Paul Bodin’s penalty miss against Romania it was 35.

And then by the qualifier defeat to Republic of Ireland in 2017 it was 59. How much longer could it go on?

No longer.

The European Championship participations – and 2016’s glorious run – were one thing, but the World Cup remained the Holy Grail, the unattainable high, the elevation to a status that never seemed attainable during the dark years in the wilderness that included a defeat to Leyton Orient under Bobby Gould.

Seriously. Look it up.

That Wales doesn’t exist any more though.

It was replaced by the pride and optimism of the late Gary Speed, the boundless energy of Chris Coleman, the world class quality of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, and the skilled players who have supported and now often surpassed the performances of the two talismen.

Gareth Bale's free-kick went in off Andriy Yarmolenko for the only goal

Gareth Bale’s free-kick went in off Andriy Yarmolenko for the only goal

Wales have always had pride, they have always tried, but in the last few years a real connection between team and management and fans has formed this golden era. Players grow when they wear the red shirt.

Ben Davies, a loyal foot soldier during this period, epitomised that union here as he threw himself in front of every Ukraine attacker. When the visitors somehow got past the Tottenham man there was Wayne Hennessey, who apparently plays for Burnley these days though you wouldn’t know it.

The goalkeeper, like many of his teammates, doesn’t need to taste club action to turn out impressively for his country, something that is also repeated in the figures of Bale and Ramsey.

This is their club, anyway. That’s the feel of it. That’s the spirit created by Speed which has been so expertly taken on by the quiet, unassuming Rob Page.

Wales fans celebrate qualifying for Qatar

Wales fans celebrate qualifying for Qatar
AFP via Getty Images)

For him and his players this is their time, their moment and their tournament. England, Iran and the USA await in Qatar, but there is plenty of celebrating time before then.

Sixty-four years have passed since a Welshman kicked a football at World Cup, with every conceivable manner of defeat blocking the path to the sight of another one.

No more. No longer.

Wales are said to have earned between £8m-£10m for reaching the tournament.

The real impact, on this generation and the generations to come, is priceless.

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