Olli Meek reflects on the FA Cup third round fixtures, with Arsenal crashing out to add to Arsene Wenger's woes.Written by Olli Meek on 13th January 2018
Why Wales Will Be Back
Deputy Editor Harry Wilkinson gives a fan's perspective on how to receive the Wales football team's recent failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup
After a miraculous Euro 2016 Wales were brutally denied World Cup qualification after losing to the Republic of Ireland. This was Wales' only defeat of the ten-game qualifying campaign, and having only needed a draw to come second in the group (and into the playoffs), it was a crushing, heart-breaking loss.
Ireland capitalised on a mistake Wales made whilst trying to play-out from the back, with James McClean burying a cross by Robbie Brady after a poor touch from Ashley Williams. The goal was taken very well, and Wales should not be blamed for attempting to play-out, with no real aerial threat on the field at the time. Wales reacted the best they could, putting plenty of balls into the box that could have easily fallen to someone in red but it wasn’t to be, and the plucky Irish held on.
It’s well documented how dire Wales’ football history was prior to last summer’s Euros (the Euros was the first major tournament they had qualified for since the 1958 World Cup), which only elevated the miraculous nature of the tournament. But now, to fail to qualify for the World Cup, it just feels unfair. But, realistically, it wasn’t unfair. It was certainly unfortunate, but not unfair.
Wales drew too many games in the qualifying, conceded too many points from winning positions. There’s no-one specifically to blame for the misfortune, because it can surely be said that the players (and manager) put their heart and soul into every minute of every game. That is Wales’ strength: heart, pride, and effort. It’s a great cliché that hard-work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, and usually it is true. It’s just unfortunate that on this occasion, this campaign, it wasn’t.
“From a Welsh fan’s perspective, it’s difficult to know how to feel after reflecting on this game
Of course, there were other factors, the big one being that Gareth Bale was unavailable for two of the most vital games (including Serbia away, which ended a 2-2 draw, and of course the final loss to Ireland). God only knows what could have happened if he had played those games. But it’s useless to dwell on such things. What is useful is to be grateful for what happened last summer, learn from the mistakes of this campaign, and look to the future.
As for watching the 2018 World Cup, personally I think it is important for Wales fans not to be bitter about watching England (and potentially Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as well). We all watch the Premier League, most of us support English teams, with English players. The England team could be seen as a reflection of the English leagues, which are meant to be the best in the world. So, if the England team doesn’t perform well, some might say it would be an embarrassment to such leagues, and those who support them. That is why, in my view, Wales fans should want England to do well in the World Cup, to honour the English leagues they support, the leagues the Welsh players play in.
Back to Wales though; it is not over for this team, as a lot of the players still have a good few years in them (including Bale who is still 28). But as well as that, there are a crop of younger players coming through, including 18 year-old Ben Woodburn, who has already made a big impression with his winner against Austria. The future of Welsh football looks promising. The Euros was not just an explosion of ecstasy gone forever, but has created a positivity that will live on to inspire a whole new generation. Losing out on World Cup qualification will not change that.
Still, the current Wales squad has much to do, and will already be looking to the Euro 2020 qualifiers. Because this team is not done. This team will come back fighting, you can be sure of that.