The Wales national football team represents Wales in international men's football. Controlled by the Football Association of Wales, the governing body for football in Wales, they are one of the oldest national teams in the world. Although not a major force in world football, Wales constantly punches above its weight and has regularly beaten some of the best teams in the world.
Although part of the United Kingdom, Wales has always had its own representative side that plays in all the major professional tournaments, though not in the Olympic Games as the IOC only recognises the United Kingdom.
In the qualification for Euro 2008, Wales has been drawn in Group D alongside Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Republic of Ireland, Cyprus and San Marino.
The Early Years
Wales played its first competitive match on 25 March 1876 against Scotland in Glasgow, making it the third oldest international football team in the world.
Although the Scots won the first fixture 40, a return match was planned in Wales the following year, and so it was that the first international football match on Welsh soil took place at The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham on 5 March 1877. Scotland took the spoils winning 20.
Wales' first match against England came in 1879 - a 21 defeat at the Kennington Oval, London and in 1882 Wales faced Ireland for the first time, winning 71 in Wrexham.
The associations of the four Home Nations met in Manchester on December 6, 1882 to set down a set of worldwide rules. This meeting saw the establishment of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) to approve changes to the rules, a task the four associations still perform to this day.
The 1883/84 season saw the formation of the British Home Championship, a tournament which was played annually between England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, until 1983/84. Wales were champions on 12 occasions - winning outright 7 times whilst sharing the title five times.
The FAW became members of FIFA, world football's governing body, in 1906, but the relationship between FIFA and the British associations was fraught and the British nations withdrew from FIFA in 1928 in a dispute over payments to amateur players. As a result, Wales did not enter the first three World Cups.
In 1932 Wales played host to the Republic of Ireland, the first time they played against a side from outside the four home nations. A year later, Wales played a match outside the United Kingdom for the first time when they travelled to Paris to take on France in a match which was drawn 11.
Wales, along with the other four home nations, rejoined Fifa in 1946 and took part in the qualifying rounds for the 1950 World Cup, the 1949/50 Home Championships being designated as a qualifying group. The top two teams were to qualify for the finals in Brazil, but Wales finished bottom of the group.
The 1950s were undoubtedly a golden age for Welsh football with stars such as Ivor Allchurch, Alf Sherwood, Jack Kelsey and, of course, John Charles, pulling on the famous red shirt and Wales made its only World Cup appearance in 1958, however, their qualification was fortunate to say the least. Having finished second to Czechoslovakia in qualifying Group 4, the Welsh thought their chances of appearing in Sweden were over. But the golden generation of Welsh football had reckoned without the politics of the Middle East.
Egypt and Sudan had refused to play against Israel whilst Indonesia had insisted on meeting Israel on neutral ground. As a result Israel were proclaimed winners of their respective group in the Asian/African zone.
Fifa were understandably reluctant to allow a team to qualify for the World Cup finals without actually playing a match and so lots were drawn of all the second placed teams in the Uefa qualifying groups. Wales were drawn out of the hat and awarded a two-legged play-off match against Israel with a place in Sweden for the winners.
Having beaten Israel 20 in Tel Aviv and 20 at Ninian Park, Cardiff, Wales went through to the World Cup Finals for the first, and so far, only time.
The Welsh side made their mark in Sweden, drawing all the matches in their group against Hungary, Mexico, and Sweden before defeating the Hungarians in a play off match to reach the Quarter finals. There the Welsh lost 10 to eventual champions Brazil, with 17-year-old Pel้ grabbing the only goal of the game for the South American side. However, Wales's chances of victory were hampered by the injury of John Charles.
The 70s and 80s
Wales have never actually qualified for the final stages of the European Championship, however in 1976 they did reach the last eight of the competition having finished top of qualifying group 2 ahead of Hungary, Austria and Luxembourg. Prior to 1980, only four countries qualified for the final stages of the competition, and Wales were drawn to play against the winners of group 3 Yugoslavia, in a two legged match. Wales lost the first leg 2-0 in Zagreb and were knocked out of the competition having only managed a 1-1 draw in the return leg at Ninian Park, Cardiff.
The following year Wales defeated England on English soil for the first time in 42 years and secured their only victory to date at Wembley thanks to a Leighton James penalty. Another notable achievement came in 1980 as Wales tore England apart in one of the best performances ever witnessed by a Welsh side. Goals from Mickey Thomas, Ian Walsh, Leighton James and an own goal by Phil Thompson saw Wales thrash England 4-1 at The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, just four days after England had beaten the then world champions, Argentina.
In the 1982 World Cup qualifiers, Wales came extremely close to qualification, a 3-0 defeat against the USSR in their final game meant they missed out on goal difference.
Manchester United youngster, Mark Hughes, marked his debut for Wales scoring the only goal of the game as England were defeated once again in 1984 and the following season, Hughes was on target scoring a wonder goal as Wales thrashed Spain 3-0 at The Racecourse during qualification for Mexico 86.
1990s - present day
Wales came close, once again, to qualifying for a major championship when they came within a whisker of reaching the World Cup of 1994. Needing to win the final game of the group at home to Romania, Paul Bodin missed a penalty when the scores were level 1-1 and Romania went on to win 2-1.
Following the failure to qualify, Terry Yorath's contract as manager of the national side was not renewed by the FAW and John Toshack, then manager of Real Sociedad was appointed as a part-time manager. However, Toshack resigned after just one game - a 3-1 defeat to Norway - citing problems with the FAW as his reason for leaving, although he was sure to have been shocked at being booed off the pitch at Ninian Park by the Welsh fans still reeling from the dismissal of Yorath Mike Smith took the reins for the start of the Euro 96 qualifiers which saw Wales slip to embarrassing defeats against Moldova and Georgia before Bobby Gould was appointed in June 1995.
Gould's time in charge of Wales is seen as a dark period by Welsh football fans. His questionable tactics and public fallings out with players such as Nathan Blake, Robbie Savage and Mark Hughes coupled with embarrassing defeats to club side Leyton Orient and a 7-1 thrashing by Holland in 1996 did not make him a popular figure within Wales. Gould finally resigned following a 4-0 defeat to Italy in 1999 and the FAW turned to two legends of the national team, Neville Southall and Mark Hughes to take temporary charge of the game against Denmark four days later, with Hughes later being appointed on a permanent basis.
Under Hughes, Wales came close to qualifying for the European Championships in 2004, losing in the playoffs for a place in Portugal against Russia. The defeat, however, was not without its controversy as Russian midfield player, Egor Titov, test positive for banned drug use after the first qualifying leg, however the sport's governing body decided to take no action against the Football Union of Russia other than instructing them not to play Titov again.
Following a disappointing start to the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign Hughes left his role with the national team to take over as manager of Blackburn Rovers of the English Premiership. John Toshack was appointed manager for the second time on 12 November 2004.
World Cup record
- 1930 to 1938 - Did not enter
- 1950 to 1954 - Did not qualify
- 1958 - Quarter-finals
- 1962 to 2006 - Did not qualify
European Championship record
- 1960 - Did not enter
- 1964 to 2008 - Did not qualify
Most capped Wales players
As of October 12, 2006, the players with the most caps for Wales are:
- # Name Career Caps Goals
- 1 Neville Southall 1982 - 1997 92 0
- 2 Gary Speed 1990 - 2004 85 7
- 3 Dean Saunders 1986 - 2001 75 22
- 4 Peter Nicholas 1979 - 1991 73 2
- = Ian Rush 1980 - 1996 73 28
- 6 Mark Hughes 1984 - 1999 72 16
- = Joey Jones 1975 - 1986 72 1
- 8 Ivor Allchurch 1950 - 1966 68 23
- 9 Brian Flynn 1974 - 1984 66 7
- 10 Andy Melville 1989 - 2004 65 3
Top goalscorers for Wales
As of September 12, 2007, the players with the most goals for Wales are:
Wales play their home matches at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. The stadium was built in 1999 on the site of the old National Stadium, known as Cardiff Arms Park, as the Welsh rugby union had been chosen to host the Rugby World Cup.
Prior to 1989 Wales played their home games at the grounds of Cardiff City F.C., Swansea City F.C. and Wrexham F.C. but then came to an agreement with the WRU to use Cardiff Arms Park and subsequently, the Millennium Stadium.
Wales' first football match at the Millennium Stadium was against Finland on 29 March 2000. The Finns won the match 2-1, with Nathan Blake becoming the first Welshman to score a goal at the stadium, unfortunately for Blake and Wales it was an own goal - Ryan Giggs scored Wales' goal in the match, becoming the first Welshman to score at the right end at the stadium!
In recent seasons a handful of friendly home matches have been played away from the Millennium Stadium at Swansea's Liberty Stadium and Wrexham's Racecourse Ground.
Recent matches & Upcoming matches
Wales 0-2 Germany - Euro 2008 Qualifier, 8 September 2007 - Millennium Stadium, Cardiff BBC
Slovakia 2-5 Wales - Euro 2008 Qualifier, 12 September 2007 - Trnava BBC
Cyprus 3-1 Wales - Euro 2008 Qualifier, 13 October 2007 - Nicosia BBC
San Marino 1-2 Wales - Euro 2008 Qualifier, 17 October 2007 - Serravalle BBC
Wales v Republic of Ireland - Euro 2008 Qualifier, 17 November 2007 - Millennium Stadium, Cardiff (Live on Sky Sports 1 & Sky Sports HD1)
Germany v Wales - Euro 2008 Qualifier, 21 November 2007 - Frankfurt (Live on BBCi)
Wales v Norway - International friendly, 6 February 2008 - Racecourse Ground, Wrexham