The Wales national football team is the third-oldest international side in the sport, having made their debut in 1876 in a match against Scotland in Glasgow.
Wales made FIFA World Rankings history with their meteoric rise in the rankings between 2011 and 2015, when the side climbed from 117th all the way up to 8th.
The team holds the distinction of coming from the least populous nation to have reached the semi-finals of the UEFA European Championship. They achieved that feat in the 2016 tournament in France.
The Welsh national side was largely fed by players from Cardiff City and Swansea City who are based in Wales but play in the English league structure. Both clubs have recently enjoyed top-flight status.
Wales were founding members of the British Home Championship and the International Football Association Board (IFAB).
Wales' early history
Wales played their first match on home soil nearly a year after making their international debut against Scotland in Glasgow. Their first home match, played against the same opponent at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham, saw them suffer a 2-0 defeat.
Despite effectively helping to establish competitive international football and joining FIFA in 1910, Wales did not enter the first three World Cups over a dispute between the home nations and the global football governing body.
The early years of football saw the home nations take an insular approach and Wales did not play a match outside of the British Isles until they travelled to Paris in 1933 to take on France.
Wales, the 1958 World Cup and golden age for the national team
Along with the rest of the Home Nations, Wales rejoined FIFA in 1946 and embarked upon their first qualifying campaign ahead of the 1950 World Cup.
With the Home Nation Championship serving as their qualifying group, Wales missed out in 1950 and again in 1954 after finishing last in the four-team tournament.
There was a change in qualifying route for the 1958 World Cup with a very good Wales team drawn against tricky opponents in Czechoslovakia and East Germany. Wales won both their home games but lost in Leipzig and Prague. Des Palmer rattled in a hat-trick against East Germany in Cardiff, but those would be his final goals for his country.
Initially, it seemed as though manager Jimmy Murphy had failed to lead the golden generation of Welsh football to the World Cup but an unconventional path presented itself.
After boycotts of the Israel team in the Asian/African qualifying zone FIFA announced them as the winners of the section. Feeling that they couldn't simply allow a team to go straight into the World Cup and drew lots to determine their opponents. Wales were picked and won both legs of the play-off 2-0 against Israel to win a place in Sweden.
Wales took a team packed full of stars to their first FIFA World Cup, including Ivor Allchurch, Cliff Jones, Alf Sherwood, Jack Kelsey, Trevor Ford, Ronnie Burgess, Terry Medwin and John Charles.
They were handed a tough draw but managed to escape a group that included hosts Sweden, Hungary and Mexico. Charles got a crucial equaliser in their opening game against Hungary which ended 1-1. Allchurch put Wales in front against Mexico before Jaime Belmonte scored a famous goal to secure his country their first World Cup points and deny the Dragons victory. A goalless draw against Sweden meant Wales booked a quarter-final date with Brazil.
Wales were undone by a cheeky finish from Pele, his first goal in international football, in their last-eight meeting with Brazil but enjoyed a memorable ride at their only World Cup appearance to date.
Wales and failure to qualify for major tournaments
After the memorable debut, Wales failed to make another major championship in the 20th Century.
Wales came close to qualifying for the abbreviated 1976 European Championships, reaching the last eight but with the quarter-finals played across two legs, home and away, they were not part of the tournament proper and did not count as a qualification. Wales went unbeaten through their qualifying group led by John Toshack and Arfon Griffiths who both contributed key goals.
They would at least play one match in Yugoslavia as they went down over two legs against the 1976 tournament hosts.
In qualification for the 1986 World Cup, Wales missed out on a play-off berth on goal difference. They lost out to Scotland after drawing against their British rivals in their final qualifying match in Cardiff. Wales had led through Mark Hughes before an 80th-minute penalty denied them top spot in the group and saw the Scots through to a play-off against Australia.
Six years later they suffered another near miss after beating Germany in June 1991 to go to the top of their Euro qualifying group but the newly reunified German side humbled Wales in the reverse fixture 4-1 and they would finish second and miss out on the tournament.
In qualifying for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, Wales were obliterated by Romania in their opening game, but they clawed their way back into contention by the final round of matches. Wales needed to win their final match against Romania in Cardiff but came up short losing 2-1 after Paul Bodin missed a penalty at 1-1.
Under Mark Hughes, Wales were a play-off away from making it to the 2004 European Championships but were beaten by Russia in a tense second-leg tie, that followed Russian midfielder Yegor Titov testing positive for a banned substance after the first-leg stalemate in Moscow.
The emergence of the first Welsh global superstar of the modern game in Gareth Bale played a part in raising expectations for the tiny nation.
Under Gary Speed, Wales rose incredibly on the FIFA Rankings and his work set the nation on an upward trajectory. Speed took his own life just weeks after Wales were awarded an unofficial FIFA honour for the biggest rankings gain of 2011.
Following Speed's death, Chris Coleman was appointed as Wales manager and after a few early hiccups, would end the wait to make the finals of a major championship.
The success of the 2016 European Championships
Coleman would guide Wales to the 2016 Euros in France after they finished second in their qualifying group behind Belgium. Wales lost just once in the qualifying campaign, going down to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the penultimate round of qualifiers.
Slovakia, Russia and England made up Wales' Euros group which left them with a tough task to reach the knockout phase. Wales started strong with a 2-1 win over Slovakia and then took the lead against England through Bale, before going down 1-2 against the old enemy. England's draw with Russia in the opening round left the group hanging on a knife-edge. Wales produced the goods in the clutch moment as they swept aside Russia 3-0 to win the group.
Wales faced another familiar opponent in the round of 16, coming up against Northern Ireland. The match was a hard-fought Home Nations scrap which was decided by an own goal from Gareth McAuley, who put through his net after failing to deal with a cross from Bale.
In the quarter-final, Wales met Belgium, whom they had faced in qualifying and produced arguably their best performance on the international stage. Wales came back from a goal down to beat the Belgians, who were among the tournament favourites. They would bow out in the semi-finals, suffering a 2-0 defeat to Portugal but became the smallest nation, by population to reach the last four of the Euros.
Wales in recent years
Wales suffered just one defeat in 2020 and despite losing their first three qualifiers, reached the European Championship finals for the second time and earned a promotion to the A division of the UEFA Nations League.
The team was rocked by controversy in 2020 as well, as manager Ryan Giggs was arrested and suspended from his post with the national team.
Before the postponement of the 2020 European Championships, there were grave concerns in the Welsh camp regarding the amount of football star man Bale was getting at Real Madrid, though a loan move to Tottenham and delays to the tournament appeared to play into their hands.
Interim boss Rob Page was able to complete the UEFA Nations League campaign and ensure that Wales earned a spot in the top division of the annual competition.
Bale is the biggest star in the modern Welsh game by some distance, but it is only his national team exploits that elevate him above Giggs as Wales' best.
Giggs is among the most decorated footballers to have played the game, but was set back by not enjoying the kind of quality Bale receives around him, including Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey.
Speed will tragically be remembered for the end of his life, but he should be considered one of the best to pull on the red shirt of Wales.
Trevor Ford missed out on the 1958 World Cup due to a suspension, but he remains one of the most prolific goalscorers in Welsh international football.
For his longevity and performances in a Wales shirt, record appearance holder Chris Gunter is almost universally loved among the Welsh fanbase.
Wales' biggest rivals
Being a member of the home nations, Wales have natural rivalries with England, Scotland and both the Irish teams.
Wales earned their maiden international victory over England at Alexandra Meadows in Blackburn in 1881 but wouldn't beat Scotland until 1905.
The team have also recently struck up a rivalry with Belgium due to a number of high-profile meetings between the two countries. Wales and Belgium were again drawn together for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign.
The Welsh fanbase
Hailing from a small nation, Wales supporters make up for their lack of numbers with fierce loyalty and good spirits.
The nation has had little to celebrate in its football history, but that has made every big moment that much more special for those there to witness it.
Like their British rivals, the Welsh fans are incredibly inventive when it comes to chants to celebrate their players or simply being in the stadium at all.
- Jun 11, 2021
- Jun 02, 2021