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Wales Finally Qualify for the 2022 World Cup

Gareth Bale during a UEFA Nations League football match. (Pic by John Smith/FAW)

Wales qualified for their first World Cup in over 60 years after beating Ukraine 1-0 in a tense play-off final match on Sunday. The Red Dragons progressed after Gareth Bale’s first-half free-kick was deflected in by Ukraine defender Andriy Yarmolenko.

Despite coming under heavy pressure later in the play-off tie, the early goal was enough for Robert Page’s side to reach Qatar 2022 in what will be the nation’s first World Cup appearance since they last qualified in 1958.

Welsh fans left the Cardiff City Stadium full of hope for November and December’s World Cup finals where they will face the USA, Iran, and British rivals England in Group B. And, after an impressive run to reach Qatar 2022, Wales has reasons to be hopeful for the World Cup.

Long Route to Qatar 2022

Wales has gone from strength to strength in recent years in an overhaul of the national team that began with Gary Speed in 2010. When Speed took charge, Wales were ranked 117th in the FIFA rankings. The late coach then took the side up to 45th in less than a year.

Chris Coleman built on Speed’s foundations and the former Fulham player solidified the nation’s place as an improving football nation. Coleman got Wales to their first major tournament finals in 2016 when they qualified for Euro 2016.

However, despite entering the tournament as rank outsiders, the Red Dragons surpassed all expectations to reach the semi-finals after knocking out the likes of Northern Ireland and Belgium.

Coleman led the side through the 2018 World Cup qualification stages. But, despite losing just one game in ten matches, Wales narrowly missed out on a place at the finals in Russia, which ultimately led to Coleman’s resignation as manager – a sign of how high the national team’s standards had risen.

Wales great Ryan Giggs took the reins and guided the Red Dragons to the 2020 European Championships, only to stand down following an ongoing court case for current boss Rob Page to lead the way. Under Page, the Welsh national side has improved once more.

Not only did Page lead his side to another knockout stage in Euro 2020, but he helped to navigate a tough qualification campaign. In a group containing Belgium and the Czech Republic, then progressing past Austria and Ukraine in the knockout stages, Page has shown his capabilities to lead Wales to Qatar 2022 as they are now 18th in the FIFA rankings.

Wales’ New Era

In addition, the old guard of Welsh football, Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Chris Gunter and Joe Allen, were all squad members when Speed began the Welsh revolution. These players have been central to the ongoing project of the Welsh national team.

In particular, Gareth Bale has taken a leading role. The former Real Madrid player has captained the national team throughout the World Cup qualification process. But he has produced the magic moments to give the Red Dragons an edge when required. In particular, Bale scored a hat-trick, including two late goals in a 3-2 win over Belarus that proved to be a big turning point in Wales’s qualification campaign. Then, in the semi-final knockout leg against Austria, Bale was instrumental again, scoring twice in the 2-1 win.

But, along with the experienced stars, a new batch of young starlets are entering the project. The likes of Neco Williams, Dan James, Brennan Johnson and Ethan Ampadu are combining with the experienced players to become a recognised force in world football.

By reaching Qatar 2022, Wales ended the longest-ever spell of any European side not to reach the finals of the competition. But, as recent performances at major tournaments have shown, the Red Dragons are likely to continue as planned and they could provide another surprise in Qatar.