By PA Sport Staff
Wales waited 64 years to play at a World Cup and ended up getting knocked out by England.
That painful exit at the hands of a fierce rival was far from the desired conclusion but it should not take away from Wales’ wonderful achievement of ending their lengthy finals exodus.
After the emphatic 3-0 defeat to England, Robert Page’s men hastily headed home with no wins, one point and only a solitary goal – a Gareth Bale penalty – to their name.
We have had to wait 64 years for this moment to tell the world who we are.
Our language. Our culture.
Our history. Ein Wal Goch.
We've done that. Together.
Cymru. Ar Ben y Byd. #TogetherStronger pic.twitter.com/UnkmuBRqN0
— Wales 🏴 (@Cymru) November 29, 2022
They are not great figures. Yet the remaining members of the ‘Golden Generation’, who led Wales into the semi-finals of Euro 2016, had slipped beyond their best before Qatar.
And the results should not detract from Wales qualifying to be in Doha in the first place.
Take out the host nation, who qualified automatically, and Wales were the smallest country in the competition.
Group rivals England, Iran and the United States have a combined population of 472million to Wales’ 3.1m.
Of course, Page’s squad wanted to do better in the Middle East and many will believe they should have.
The players underachieved and came in for fierce criticism, so too the manager’s tactics and selection calls, which were baffling at times. The inquest will be interesting.
However, Wales have suffered too many painful failures since losing a quarter-final to Brazil at the 1958 tournament in Sweden to be completely despondent.
The romantic journey to the World Cup became more about football – it lifted a nation which now appears more at ease with its culture, history and language.
As has been so often the case, Wales’ captain and talisman Bale carried them to Qatar with play-off-winning goals against Austria and Ukraine.
The former Real Madrid star scored a late spot-kick in the 1-1 draw against the USA but did not have the tournament he had dreamed about.
Following elimination, Bale insisted he has no thoughts of retiring from international football and the start of Euro 2024 qualifying is less than four months away.
Yet the 33-year-old, who was taken off injured against England, is not the force of old, the man whose lung-busting runs made him one of the most feared forwards of his generation.
His outing against Gareth Southgate’s side was a particularly low point in his fall from being world class. He lasted just 45 minutes after seven touches and one completed pass.
Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen, both named in the Euro 2016 team of the tournament, are also 30-somethings and one must wonder how many more mountains they can climb.
Wales went into their Group B finale requiring a mini miracle to progress following their disappointment of their dismal display in their damaging 2-0 defeat to Iran.
Page went for tried and trusted individuals as his nation sought a first victory over their neighbours for 38 years.
A four-goal win would have guaranteed Wales a last-16 place, something they had not achieved against England in 103 games between the two countries.
More realistically, they needed to win and for Iran and the USA to draw to progress. But a dramatic return from the brink never threatened to materialise.
England dominated first-half possession and completed 322 first-half passes to Wales’ 90, while the USA taking the lead against Iran was unwelcome news.
Following Bale’s premature withdrawal, Wales’ World Cup hopes were over within seven minutes of the restart as Marcus Rashford smashed home a free-kick and Phil Foden pounced from close range
Rashford then added another before the end.
Y WAL GOCH.
THE RED WALL.
DIOLCH. #TogetherStronger pic.twitter.com/AYSlstLKZ5
— Wales 🏴 (@Cymru) November 29, 2022
After the final whistle, players lined up in front of the so-called ‘Red Wall’, who belted out the National Anthem and ‘Viva Gareth Bale’.
Generations of proud supporters had waited a lifetime to witness Wales grace a World Cup.
Performances on the field may have fallen short of expectations but that dream has now been realised.
And the bond between the fans and their team remains as strong as ever.