With the Football Association of Wales first established in 1876, its national team has a history with the game almost as long as island-mates England and Scotland. Their tradition and success in the sport have never really compared, however, and the Welsh typically have had to settle for being subordinate on the international stage.
There have been highlights nonetheless. Most famously, the 1958 FIFA World Cup Sweden™ team that featured Il Buon Gigante John Charles along with players like Ivor Allchurch, Cliff Jones and Jack Kelsey went to the quarter-finals where they fell to mighty Brazil by only a goal. Charles is considered one of the most talented players in the world from that period, and he was also one of the first Britons to succeed in Italy, which he did significantly with Juventus.
Sweden 1958 was the only appearance in the FIFA World Cup finals by Wales, though all that stood between them and a place at USA 1994 was the crossbar that blocked Paul Bodin's missed penalty against Romania. Two victories out of eight and just one out of ten in the run-ups to France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002 only compounded Welsh misery.
However, with other talented individuals like Simon Davies and Craig Bellamy emerging alongside Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs the side performed better in qualifying for UEFA EURO 2004 than anyone expected. Then coach Mark Hughes and his side even defeated mighty Italy 2-1 in the process, but a defeat in the play-offs by Russia dashed hopes once again.
Hughes' exit coincided with a downturn in Wales' fortunes, though, and under the guidance of John Toshack they could only finish fifth in their qualifying groups for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany and EURO 2008. With Giggs now in international retirement, Toshack will look to Tottenham Hotspur's rising star Gareth Bale to compliment that talents of Bellamy and Jason Koumas as the Welsh go in search of a return to the global stage in South Africa.