Wales edge closer to first semi-final after 58-year wait

Reuters , Sunday 26 Jun 2016

The last time Wales reached the quarter-finals of a major soccer tournament, at the 1958 World Cup, the might of Brazil and a fledgling Pele stood between them and progress.

It has taken the best part of six decades for them to return to one of international football's major stages and, having clawed their way into the last eight of Euro 2016 where they will face Belgium or Hungary, they might fancy their chances of going one better than their heralded predecessors.

A cagey 1-0 win over a rigidly organised Northern Ireland side in Saturday's last-16 clash in Paris teed up what many Wales fans may see as a winnable quarter-final, with a first-ever place in the last four of a major tournament up for grabs.

With a spot in the country's footballing record books now within touching distance, Wales boss Chris Coleman was not going to dampen fans' hopes after Saturday's victory.

"Get carried away and keep dreaming," was his message to the jubilant supporters at the Parc de Princes.

"Why not? We won't look ahead but the fans can get carried away. There's nothing wrong with that. They're enjoying every minute and they deserve to."

Many of those fans would not have been alive when Wales reached the last eight of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden but there are some notable similarities between that Wales side and the current one.

Both the 1958 side and Coleman's were propelled on their way by a talismanic, internationally-renowned forward who carried the nation's hopes on his shoulders.

While Real Madrid's Gareth Bale is today's star attraction, 58 years ago it was John Charles.

Charles, a centre forward whose brute physicality was matched by pace and dazzling technique, was in his pomp in 1958, having left Leeds United to join Juventus for a British record fee the year before.

The 'Gentle Giant', as he was known, scored Wales's only goal in their opening group game, a 1-1 draw against a Hungary team whose 'Magical Magyars' had reached the final four years previously.

Sadly for Wales, Charles picked up an injury against the same side in a playoff after both teams finished level on points, ruling him out of the quarter-final against Brazil.

That match pitted Wales against a then largely unknown 17-year-old called Pele who scored his first World Cup goal, a scrappy, deflected effort, to secure a 1-0 victory.

That was by far Brazil's closest match of the knockout rounds as they went on to blitz France 5-2 in the last four and Sweden in the final by the same scoreline.

Facing that Brazil side, who won three of the four World Cups played between 1958 and 1970, would have been a fearsome prospect.

Neither the current Hungary side, who drew two of their three group-stage encounters, or Belgium, who were comfortably beaten by Italy in their opening match, are likely to hold any trepidation for Coleman's Wales.

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