Wales have waited 58 years for their return to a major championship but are now just 90 minutes away from achieving exactly that.
Victory over Israel in Cardiff on Sunday would see Chris Coleman’s side seal their place at Euro 2016, signalling the first time Wales have graced a tournament since John Charles and co reached the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup.
Indeed, after Gareth Bale scored the winner in Thursday’s 1-0 victory over Cyprus, manager Coleman described the Real Madrid attacker’s thumping headed finish as having come “straight out of the John Charles soccer book”.
Leeds United and Juventus legend Charles was a central figure in the team that reached the last eight in Sweden in 1958 and his absence through injury proved costly as Wales were eliminated by a Pele-inspired Brazil.
A player who was equally adept in defence or attack and swapped life in England’s top flight for warmer climes – there is more than a hint of similarity between the ‘Gentle Giant’ and Wales’ current star Bale, who has contributed six goals in the current campaign.
While Charles represented Wales on the biggest stage, subsequent marquee players such as Mark Hughes, Ian Rush, Ryan Giggs and Gary Speed have fallen short.
Bale and the current Welsh crop look a sure bet to end that run of disappointment and Coleman has urged fans to “get carried away” ahead of this weekend’s match at the Cardiff City Stadium.
“For the Welsh supporters waiting for us to get back home, get excited,” Coleman said after the victory in Nicosia. “My message to them is to get carried away. Enjoy this – they’ve waited a long time.
“But we can’t get carried away. I can’t, the players can’t, my staff can’t and we won’t.
“We’ve got to live up to the expectation. We’ve done that so far and let’s hope we do it again.
“We can’t hide from the facts. Looking at the way the group is we’re one win away from a guaranteed place in France 2016, we know that.
“But the players, I promise you, never ever mention it. They know it’s there, they know what everyone will be talking about it back home.
“They saw the incredible 4,000 following we had [on Thursday], but we must never ever take our eye off the goal.”
Israel will still harbour their own dreams of automatic qualification and sit two points behind second-placed Belgium as they head into the eighth of 10 fixtures.
They head to Wales on the back of a morale-boosting 4-0 victory over Group B whipping boys Andorra on Thursday.
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