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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Welsh legend hails class of 2002
By Dewi Hughes
BBC Sport Online

After Wales claimed such an exhilarating and thoroughly deserved victory over Italy, comparisons with the team that qualified for the 1958 World Cup were bound to surface.

The legendary team of John Charles and co is still the only Welsh side ever to qualify for the finals of a major international tournament.

Fittingly Charles, a hero both in Wales and Italy, was presented to the crowd at the Millennium Stadium on Wednesday.

But now a new breed of talented and confident footballers are beating the world's best under the astute guidance of Mark Hughes.

Having won their first two games in the Euro 2004 qualifiers, expectations are sky high that Wales have finally discovered a team capable of qualification.

Wales' results in 1958 World Cup
Wales 1-1 Hungary
Wales 1-1 Mexico
Wales 0-0 Sweden
Wales 2-1 Hungary
(play-off)
Wales 0-1 Brazil
(quarter-final)
Top scorer: Ivor Allchurch, (2 goals)
Some are even daring to suggest Giggs, Bellamy, Davies and team-mates deserve to be called Wales' greatest team.

Obviously, comparison between international football of today with that of over 40 years ago is fraught with pitfalls.

Cliff Jones, the silky winger of the 1958 side, admitted the 1-0 victory against Italy was "one of the greatest results in Welsh football history".

But how would they fare against the '58 side?

"Oh, I think we'd beat them," Jones told BBC Sport Online. "Well, we had John Charles and Ivor Allchurch didn't we!"

"I don't think there's a John Charles about anywhere these days. It was lovely to see him coming out onto the pitch before the game.

"So just on that basis, we would have the edge on them."

However, Hughes' men have certainly caught the imagination of the former Tottenham Hotspur star.

"Mark has got strength in depth and the defenders know how to defend," admitted Jones, who won 59 Welsh caps.

"I can see a lot of outstanding players and a lot of team players. I was very impressed with them."

The similarities between Hughes and Jimmy Murphy, the Wales manager in the 1958 World Cup, are also evident according to Jones.

"Jimmy was a tremendous character and he brought the best out of the players," he added.

"He had magnificent enthusiasm and commitment, and that rubbed off on the players.

"Mark is a similar person. The spirit he's brought to the side has made Wales like a club team - which was one of our strengths as well."

I've been very impressed with Simon and I think there's more to come from him
Cliff Jones on Simon Davies
Italian giants Juventus tried to prise Jones away from Spurs with a 100,000 transfer fee.

An integral part of the Spurs 1961 double winning side, he terrorised defences with his pace and mazy dribbling - pretty similar to another Welsh White Hart Lane favourite in fact.

"I've been watching Simon Davies very closely over the years and he's really coming on," Jones said.

"He's got good control, quick and the important thing now is that he's getting goals.

"He always looks likely to score, and that's very important for a wing player.

"I've been very impressed with Simon and I think there's more to come from him."

If John Charles was a colossal figure in the Welsh attack of yesteryear, then Jones believes John Hartson also deserve a special mention.

Ever since Hughes took over as Wales boss in July 2000, Hartson has been given the often thankless task of occupying the lone striker role.

The early games were difficult to say the least - the team were actually on the verge of being labelled Wales' worst team after they failed to win a match in 12 attempts.

But it was Hartson who scored the crucial goal to beat Belarus to end the embarrassing run, and the team have not looked back since.

"I thought Hartson was absolutely superb," Jones added. "He was always supporting, keeping possession and kept everything flowing.

"The Italian defence knew they were in a game with him about."

Of course, Wales are still a mighty long way from booking their place in European Championship finals in Portugal.

But for the first time, perhaps, since the golden year of 1958 when a solitary Pele goal denied them a place in the World Cup final, Wales truly believe in themselves.

And after Wednesday's performance, no-one can deny that the class of 2002 deserve their chance on the big stage.







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