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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 October, 2004, 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK
Wales wait to upset old foe
By Bruce Pope

John Toshack holds off England defenders Bobby Moore and Peter Storey
Tosh scored early on and I made the goal with a run and cross for him
Leighton James

Wales go into Saturday's World Cup qualifier against England with the weight of history against them.

The dragon has clashed with the three lions 97 times before the showdown at Old Trafford, and only triumphed in 14 of those.

But the last time Wales faced England in a World Cup qualifying group, in the 1972/73 season, Wales put a fatal dent in England's hopes despite failing to beat the old enemy over two games.

Then, just as now, Germany was the destination for the finals - although then it was in the former West Germany - and Poland were the other team waiting to take advantage of any internecine British strife.

Jan Tomaszewski's brilliant performance for the Poles in their 1-1 draw at Wembley is credited with causing England's failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup.

But the damage had been done nine months earlier in the same stadium, when John Toshack's goal ensured England were held to another 1-1 draw.

England had already won 1-0 at Ninian Park when they faced their neighbours in the return at Wembley in January 1973, and fully expected to win again.

The maths are simple, if England had beaten Wales then a draw in the final group game against Poland would have been good enough - and Tomaszewski's skill that day would have been just a passing note.

Leighton James was one of the Welsh heroes who derailed Sir Alf Ramsey's plans to reclaim the trophy he led England to in 1966.

"England failed to win a home game in that group, which is what cost them, and we really dented their chances of qualifying that night," James said.

England strikers Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney
England must have Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney starting up front
Norman Hunter

"I would not dispute that if they had beaten us they would probably have qualified, so we certainly put a spoke into the works that night and the pressure just mounted on them."

Toshack had put Wales ahead early on but Norman Hunter equalised with a long-range thunderbolt just before half-time.

England poured forward in search of a winner in the second half, but could not find a way past Leeds United goalkeeper Gary Sprake.

"We played very well at Wembley, Tosh scored early on and I made the goal with a run and cross for him to sidefoot into the net," James said.

"England bombarded us and Norman Hunter scored with a 30-yarder just before half-time. You did not see him often over the halfway line, it showed how much pressure they put on us.

"We played very well and had a lot of heroes that night and thoroughly deserved the point."

With the likes of skipper Bobby Moore, Ray Clemence, Kevin Keegan, Rodney Marsh, Emlyn Hughes, Hunter and Alan Ball in the side, England looked too powerful for Wales - on paper anyway.

That again seems to be the case in 2004 but, just like 21 years ago, Hunter believes that Wales have that extra touch of class to seize on any English wobbles.

"England played Wales every year in the Home Championship so there wasn't quite the same build-up then as there is now, but it will be just as close," said Hunter.

Ryan Giggs in action for Wales
In Ryan Giggs and one or two others, you're talking about players who can turn a game
Norman Hunter

"Wales are a good side, Mark Hughes has got the Blackburn job on the back of what he's done with Wales - he's taken some good players and turned them into a very good side that will be hard to beat.

"In Ryan Giggs and one or two others - Gary Speed, John Hartson, Craig Bellamy - you're talking about players who can turn a game, change the course of 90 minutes.

"But England must have Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney starting up front, and any defence in the world would be frightened by those two."

However, unlike in 1973, second place could be good enough to get to the finals through the play-offs.

"I do not think anybody will be disappointed by the draw for Group Six, because everybody will believe they have a chance," James added.

"We must feel we can get something from Poland (at the Millennium Stadium on Wednesday), I do not see much in them that should worry us, so I am looking forward with great optimism.

"We can finish second, we have raised the expectation so much, we genuinely can expect to finish second in this group."




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