Wales played its first official match on March 25, 1876, making it the third oldest international football team in the world after England and Scotland.
The opening game was a 4-0 defeat to Scotland in Glasgow, and a first win did not arrive until February 26, 1881 when England were beaten 1-0 at Blackburn.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the highs and lows of Welsh football and some of the great managers and players that have graced its game.
One man cast his shadow over Welsh football in the early years – Billy Meredith. Born in the small mining town of Chirk in 1874, Meredith worked in the local colliery as a pit pony driver at the age of 12. He had lengthy spells at Manchester City and Manchester United in an extraordinary league career spanning 30 years and was one of football’s first superstars. Meredith, who was known for playing with a toothpick in his mouth to aid concentration, made a then-record 48 Wales appearances between 1895 and 1920 – and at 45 years and 229 days remains the oldest player to win a Welsh cap.
Picked off by Pele
Wales’ only appearance at the World Cup came in 1958. A golden era featured players such as Cliff Jones, Ivor Allchurch and the great John Charles, and qualification was secured through a play-off win against Israel after Asian and African teams had refused to play them. Once in Sweden, Wales – who were managed by Manchester United assistant Jimmy Murphy just four months after the Munich Air Disaster – made the last eight with the help of another play-off victory against Hungary. But Wales’ dream died in the last eight with a 1-0 defeat to eventual winners Brazil and a goal scored by a 17-year-old called Pele.
From Meredith to Gareth Bale and Neville Southall to Ryan Giggs, Wales has produced no shortage of world-class talent. But John Charles possibly stands above them all. Swansea-born Charles was equally effective at centre-half or centre-forward, but he built his reputation leading the line for Leeds and Juventus. Charles was dubbed ‘Il Gigante Buono’ (The Gentle Giant) during his goal-laden five seasons in Italy and his 6ft 2ins frame towered above Welsh football. Charles played at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, but crucially missed the quarter-final defeat to Brazil through injury.
Mark Hughes’ thunderous volley against Spain in 1985 or Bale’s long-range last-minute screamer to beat Scotland in 2012 live long in the memory. But there was no better team goal than Brian Flynn’s against Scotland in the 1975 British Home Championship. Flynn laid off Malcolm Page’s pass and played one-twos with John Mahoney and John Toshack before finishing with aplomb. “It was my first full cap for Wales and my first goal in senior football,” Flynn said. “The weight on John Mahoney’s pass was perfect – and although I’ve never told him – John Toshack made a great angle for me and I couldn’t miss. It was great to score a goal so many people remember.”
After a 58-year absence, Wales were back at a major championship at Euro 2016. Wales beat Belgium, ranked second in the world, on their way to France and then overcame Slovakia and Russia to top a group that also included England. Bale scored in every group game and Wales then sneaked past Northern Ireland 1-0 to meet Belgium again in the last eight. Chris Coleman’s side recovered from an early deficit to win 3-1 before losing to eventual champions Portugal in the semi-final. The wait for a third major finals did not prove so long, however, as Wales qualified for Euro 2020 under Giggs.