There was the risk of becoming the most hated football nation on Earth. The alternative was the risk of going the same way as so many before had done, remembered only as an addition to the litany of other historic defeats at the final hurdle - against Romania in 1993 and Scotland in both 1985 and 1977. 

Somehow, the Welsh men’s football team found a third way; stopping Ukraine from reaching a World Cup in the year they became everybody else’s second favourite team, but remaining heroes in the process.

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest was won by a Ukrainian act as a result of votes of solidarity, and if the fixture in Cardiff could have been decided by a public vote, the result would have gone the same way.

Thank God this is football.


It was tense and tight throughout and Ukraine probably had the better of the chances. Wales only had three shots on target compared to Ukraine’s nine: goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey saved the greatest performance of his career for his 102nd appearance in a Wales shirt.

Thankfully, there were no contentious refereeing decisions in a match that could have painted Wales as villains. The story at the final whistle wasn’t about a Ukrainian team denied poetic justice, but was one about a Welsh team succeeding where their predecessors had failed for 64 years.

As the match ended, Nic Parry on commentary for S4C asked his co-commentator and former Wales striker Malcolm Allen for his thoughts. Allen was on the pitch in Cardiff in 1993 for the final whistle after replacing Paul Bodin, who infamously missed a penalty that might have sent Wales to the ‘94 World Cup.

Allen was clearly overwhelmed. You couldn’t say he was fighting back tears, as Malcs had obviously lost that fight. He was clearly crying on commentary as he said “I never thought it would happen in my lifetime”.

There were the usual interviews with players and boilerplate questions and answers about “how much it means”, but for Wales as a nation, this is absolutely massive.

We didn’t get a World Cup campaign, but Welsh football fans got “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” added to the repertoire thanks to that match against Romania in 1993. However, after beating Ukraine, the entirety of Wales, beyond its football fans, stands to gain so much.

Not only do we get to watch the team playing in a World Cup, but we get to enjoy the eyes of the world being on the Welsh football team - whose modern image of Welshness is one to be proud of.

More than 3.5 billion people watched the last World Cup in 2018 - half the world’s population.

The Welsh language enjoyed massively increased visibility after the unforgettable Euro 2016 campaign, and with even more eyes expected on this year’s World Cup, the boost to Wales’ standing on the international stage can’t be understated.

Last week’s Jubilee celebrations began with a shock to many Welsh football fans as Gareth Bale, he of “F*ck the Union Jack” fame, accepted an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours. The online reaction was somewhat OTT, but it reflects the identity crisis that can be created by the underlying “Britishness” that most Welsh people feel when it’s ignored by those who don’t feel it.

After spending the weekend bombarded with images of royal family members who look like they’re cosplaying “Weekend at Bernie’s” at one end of the spectrum and bored, over-tired brats at the other, while peasants in thrall gleefully wave Union flags at holograms in solid gold antiques, this Welsh victory could not have come at a better time.

For Welsh nationhood, having the men’s team qualifying for a football World Cup on a Jubilee weekend is the most perfect counterpunch to the absolute worst examples of this island’s nauseous, ideological malaise.

In his post-match interview, caretaker manager Rob Page (who by the time of the World Cup will have been keeping the absent manager’s seat warm - whoever that may be - for an entire two years) paid tribute and dedicated the win to former manager Gary Speed for starting the culture that the Welsh football team enjoys today.

In March of this year, Dafydd Iwan singing “Yma O Hyd” in tears before the match against Austria felt like the high point of the culture started by Speed. How could it get better than this? Miraculously, it could as the singer joined the entire team on the pitch for another rendition after they qualified for their first World Cup since 1958.

This image of Wales is one to savour. It was an image of people who speak Welsh and those who don’t, of different races and heritage, people who were born and raised in Wales and others who qualify through Welsh parents or grandparents, players at the beginning of their careers and MBEs, all arm in arm and singing the words of Dafydd Iwan’s Welsh language song of resistance.

There are questions to be raised about the ethics of the World Cup being in Qatar, but for today we can enjoy the victory. And come November, it doesn’t matter what happens on the pitch if the team can match even half of what’s been achieved off of it.

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