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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 September, 2003, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Wales ready to halt run
By Pete Sanderson

LIVE BBC COVERAGE
Paul Bodin (left) tussles with Gheorghe Hagi
Italy v Wales
Sat 6 Sept KO 1945 BST
Ten years ago it would have been billed as little more than a St David versus Goliath encounter.

But Saturday's Euro 2004 qualifier between Wales and Italy has emerged as perhaps the most crucial fixture in the principality's footballing history.

Not since their World Cup quarter-final match against Brazil have the Welsh public been so captivated by the exploits of their national side.

But, under the shrewd tutelage of Mark Hughes, Wales have become a force to be feared in world football.

Victory for Wales, currently holding a two-point lead over the Azzurri in Group Nine, will virtually book their ticket to Portugal.

Defeat will almost certainly consign them to the lottery of the play-offs.

BBC Sport checks out Wales' 45 years of hurt in crucial encounters.


Brazil 1-0 Wales, World Cup, Sweden 1958

Pele in action in 1958
A Pele goal knocked out Wales in 1958

It is easy to forget that Wales came within two games of the World Cup final in 1958.

Unfortunately for Jimmy Murphy's side, an unknown 17-year-old by the name of Edson Arantes do Nascimento was keen to establish himself on the world stage.

The teenager, who afterwards went under the more popular name of Pele, scored the goal which knocked out a Welsh sided starved of the services of star man John Charles in a tightly contested match which ended in a 1-0 defeat.

Lucky losers Wales had only qualified the tournament after beating Israel in a play-off.

Brazil went on to lift the most famous trophy in the world and Pele went on to world acclaim.


Wales 0-2 Scotland, Anfield, 1977, World Cup qualifier

Scotland and Wales sweated it out for a place at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina in a nail-biting game at Anfield.

Curiously, the match was decided by a Frenchman after controversial referee Robert Wurtz awarded a hotly-contested penalty.

Scotland's Lou Macari launched a high cross into the Welsh box - up went the heads - plus one hand - and Monsieur Wurtz gave a penalty.

It was later proven the hand belonged to Scotland striker Joe Jordan and the hapless official has since been known in the Welsh valleys as the "Wurtz" referee in football history.


Wales 1-1 Scotland, 1985, World Cup qualifier

This was perhaps Welsh legend Ian Rush's best chance of a World Cup finals appearance.

Wales, who also had the likes of Neville Southall and Hughes in their ranks, were leading Scotland 1-0 and sitting just nine minutes away from a World Cup final play-off against Australia.

But Scotland surged forward in search of an equaliser and were awarded a controversial penalty which was duly converted by Davie Cooper.

Cooper's goal took Scotland to Mexico in 1986, leaving Wales to be the Bridesmaids once again.

But jubilation for the Tartan Army quickly turned to sorrow once the news was released that Jock Stein had died immediately after the game.


Germany 4-1 Wales, European Championship qualifier, 1991

Twelve years ago Wales were as buoyant as Mark Hughes's side are now.

Terry Yorath's team headed a group featuring the likes of West Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg and harboured genuine hopes that 34 years of hurt were about to be lifted.

After holding out for 20 minutes a weakened Welsh side suddenly collapsed, crashing to a 4-1 defeat and shifting the impetus in favour of the World Cup holders.

Wales again failed to qualify while Germany went on to reach the final in Sweden, losing 2-0 to Denmark.


Wales 1-2 Romania, Cardiff Arms Park, 1993

Wales were on the brink of qualification for the World Cup for only the second time in their history in 1993.

Yorath had moulded together an outstanding team featuring talents such as Southall, Rush, Hughes and Kevin Ratcliffe.

Victories against Belgium and the mighty Germany had turned the Arms Park into a deafening fortress

All that stood in the way of a place at USA 1994 was an efficient but beatable Romanian side.

Gheorghe Hagi opened the scoring but the Wales side replied through Dean Saunders.

Wales poured forward in search of a winner and eventually forced Romania to concede a penalty.

Enter Paul Bodin, an average journeyman full-back playing his football at Swindon.

With 40 years of expectation and an entire country willing him to score he thumped his penalty against the crossbar.

Romania cleared the ball and minutes later Florin Raducioiu had slotted home the winner, shattering Welsh dreams once again.







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