Always The Bridesmaid 2

Monday, 10 July 2000, 0:00
3 mins read

Wales hoped that they would never see the Scots again, but the qualifying group for Mexico saw Wales again paired with Scotland, Spain and Iceland. As usual, Wales decided to make things difficult, losing the first two games away to Iceland and Spain. They eventually got the show on the road – beating Iceland 2-1 in Cardiff. When Ian Rush scored the only goal of the game at Hampden Park, the group was wide open. The win in Scotland went some way towards consoling the fans who still felt cheated by the Jordan handball incident in 1977.

Spain were next on the list and at the Racecourse in Wrexham, a crowd of 23 000 was not to be disappointed. Spain were overrun: two goals from Rush and a goal from Mark Hughes which has become a classic. The game, because of Hughes’s goal, has become an ‘I was there’ occasion. Well, I was there, and since that night I think I have met about 150000 other people who were there when Mark Hughes scored with his spectacular kick against Spain. For sheer quality, it has been matched only by Giggs’s free-kick against Belgium.

The win against Spain meant that Wales would have it all to play for against the Scots in Cardiff. The winners of this game would earn the right to kick the crap out of Australia and qualify for the World Cup. After 14 minutes, Mark Hughes scored and Wales were on their way, but in the second half, the ghost of Joe Jordan returned to haunt Wales. A dreadful penalty decision against Dave Phillips meant the game was drawn and Scotland’s superior goal difference gave them the runners-up spot. The disappointment of missing out was put into perspective when Jack Stein, the Scotland manager, suffered a fatal heart attack as the final whistle was blown.

The campaign for Italia ’90 is best forgotten. Although it did see Wales draw 0-0 with West Germany at the National Stadium, soon after the Welsh FA decided to give up the nomadic trips around the country for international games and decided to play all games at the house of rugby in Cardiff.

The road to USA ’94 could not have got off to a worst start: a 5-1 hammering away to Romania. Thankfully, I was spared having to witness this as on the night I was watching Barcelona against Sampdoria at Wembley. I watched the goal on the TV at Wembley and, to be honest, Wales were outclassed. So, another World Cup adventure was over before it started. Terry Yorath, the Wales manager, described the result as ‘shocking’ and must have welcomed the opportunity to put matters right 10 days later. Wales faced Holland in a friendly international in Utrecht. The team was under the temporary rule of Peter Shreeves because of the tragic death of Terry Yorath’s son.

The game against Holland only highlighted the Welsh defensive problems. A 4-0 defeat was unlikely to restore confidence, following the result in Bucharest. The confidence in the Welsh camp must have been severely rocked by the two results. Before returning to the World Cup campaign, Wales flew to Japan to take part in the Kirin Cup – an international friendly competition involving Argentina and Japan. The opening game against Argentina did not produce the expected avalanche of goals, and over the 90 minutes Wales had the best chances. With two minutes remaining, Batistuta’s free-kick beat Southall. Although Wales were beaten, the performances had been a big improvement on the previous two games. A meaningless game Japan followed four days later and, to be honest, Wales made very hard work of their 1-0 win, although it could be argued that the controversial sending off of Iwan Roberts did not make the game easy ‘-Wales. It was Wales’s first victory in five games and it helped to get back to winning ways, which was the main thing following the in Bucharest and Utrecht. September 1992 meant a return to the serious business of World Cup qualification. Following the Romanian defeat, Wales’s next opponents were World Cup minions, the Faroe Islands. The problem with such games is that you are in a no-win situation. Wales were expected to win and it was only the margin of victory that was in question. The final score of 6-0 was expected and it was a relief to see Wales restore some pride with a professional performance which ensured that the result was never in any danger.

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“Come on Cymru” and “Come on Cymru 2000” are available to order on-line from http://www.sigmapress.co.uk .

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Images courtesy of Getty Images, Athena Picture Agency and Swansea City Football Club.
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