Gareth Bale in the 2022 UEFA Nations League match between Wales and Poland
Gareth Bale in the 2022 UEFA Nations League match between Wales and Poland | Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Football | World Cup 2022 | Wales embark on first World Cup Finals since 1958

By Chris Sampson

  • Wales in first World Cup Finals since 1958
  • Dragons aiming to progress from group
  • Bale looking to leave mark on World stage after MLS Cup win

QATAR -Wales will be hoping to emulate their positive tournament performances of recent years as they make a welcome return to the World Cup Finals.


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Wales head to Qatar with boss Robert Page looking to guide his team to the knockout stages of a major competition for the third time since 2016. At times in Wales’ recent history qualification for a major tournament remained a pipe dream after decades of disappointment and the occasional near miss. However, things have changed for the Dragons, with the late Gary Speed laying the foundations, and then qualification for Euro 2016, which resulted in a stirring run to the semi-finals under the stewardship of Chris Coleman. This has helped cement Wales as a dark horse on the international scene, a genuine danger to more established nations, whether that be in qualifying or at a tournament itself. After their run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals, there had been high hopes of Wales qualifying for the last edition in 2018 but drawing five of their 10 fixtures left them two points short behind Republic of Ireland in their bid for a playoff spot. Therefore, after their last-16 finish at Euro 2020, the next goal was ending their 64-year wait for a second appearance at a World Cup, something which was achieved through two memorable playoff triumphs earlier this year.

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A five-nation qualification group involving Belgium and Czech Republic did not leave Wales with much margin for error, and realistically meant that they were competing for a playoff spot.  This is how it proved to be and two stunning goals from Gareth Bale earned a win over Austria to set up a Cardiff showdown with Ukraine, who had seen off Scotland. Wales prevailed thanks to Bale’s deflected effort, booking their first appearance in the World Cup Finals since 1958, where they reached the the quarter-finals on their only appearance to date. Jimmy Murphy’s team came through a group with Sweden, Hungary and Mexico without winning a match, drawing all three games and then having to beat Hungary 2-1 in a hastily arranged playoff game after they had finished on the same points. They then went out in the first knockout game, Pele scoring the decisive goal as Brazil prevailed 1-0 in Gothenburg, on their way to winning their first-ever World Cup. Group B may prove to be one of the most competitive in the tournament with all four nations in the top 20 of the World Rankings, and Page will recognise that his side can ill-afford defeat to a USA side of a similar level in their opening match. Four days later, 20th-ranked Iran face the Dragons, before Wales go up against England in the final group game. Unusually all three of Wales’ matches take  place at the same stadium, which could prove to be of benefit to Page’s squad.

The success over Ukraine came as recently as June 5, splitting Wales’ UEFA Nations League campaign, and it represents Wales’ only win in their last seven outings. Being drawn against Netherlands, Belgium and Poland guaranteed difficult games, but Page would not have envisaged collecting just one point from six matches.  The only positive was Brennan Johnson’s late goal earning a draw at home to Belgium, but Wales travel to Qatar having lost four of their last five matches.

Despite ongoing worries over his durability, 11 of his 13 appearances for Los Angeles FC came from the substitutes’ bench, Bale remains Wales’ key player. He has proved throughout his career, with key goals in the Champions League, cup finals and internationals that he is the man for the big occasion. Bale demonstrated this again in the MLS Cup final, where his dramatic late equaliser against Philadelphia Union saved the game for Los Angeles and provided the momentum for his side to claim victory. Bale’s fitness, however, is  likely to remain under the microscope throughout the tournament.

Another Welshman to have had fitness issues and a  disappointing few years at club level is Aaron Ramsey. Like Bale, turning out for the Dragons seems to bring the best out of him, and he appears to be in good form and free of injury as he heads out to Qatar. Currently playing for ambitious Nice in Ligue 1 he is in the process of establishing himself and will want to continue this on the biggest stage of all. Like Ramsey, Joe Rodon is also plying his trade in France, on loan to Rennes from Tottenham.  The central defender has performed well in internationals and having made 14 starts in all competitions for Rennes will head into the tournament full of confidence. Page’s system requires energetic and ball`playing wing-backs. The versatile Neco Williams of Nottingham Forest can fill this role on both flanks. Joe Allen has also been a key player for Wales in recent times but a hamstring injury has sidelined him since September so it remains to be seen how big a part the Swansea midfielder can play. The likes of Ben Davies, Dan James, Harry Wilson and Kieffer Moore also bring top-flight experience to the squad.

Page, himself a former Welsh international, had spells in charge of Port Vale and Northampton Town. His excellent work with the Welsh under 21 squad meant that when an alternative to Ryan Giggs was required , he had earned his chance. Wales’ usual formation has been a flexible 3-4-2-1 that can move into a 5-2-2-1 or 5-4-1 when under pressure. They will look to run the channels and get their creative wide players on the ball. The fantastic team spirit means that they should not be underestimated.

Wales will feel positive about their group. They have caused England problems in the past and will know that the USA are talented, but inconsistent, with Iran being an unknown quantity. They will hope to quality from the group,  in order to continue their fine recent record in knockout tournaments, however they will have to be at their best to progress.



November 21: USA vs. Wales (7pm, Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan)

November 25: Wales vs. Iran (10am, Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan)

November 29: Wales vs. England (7pm, Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan)



Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey (Nottingham Forest), Danny Ward (Leicester City), Adam Davies (Stoke City)

Defenders: Neco Williams (Nottingham Forest), Ben Davies (Tottenham Hotspur), Ben Cabango (Swansea City), Joe Rodon (Rennes, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur), Chris Mepham (Bournemouth), Ethan Ampadu (Spezia, on loan from Chelsea), Chris Gunter (AFC Wimbledon), Connor Roberts (Burnley), Tom Lockyer (Luton Town)

Midfielders: Aaron Ramsey (Nice), Joe Allen (Swansea City), Harry Wilson (Fulham), Joe Morrell (Portsmouth), Dylan Levitt (Dundee United), Rubin Colwill (Cardiff City), Jonny Williams (Swindon Town), Matthew Smith (Milton Keynes Dons), Sorba Thomas (Huddersfield Town)

Forwards: Gareth Bale (Los Angeles FC), Dan James (Fulham, on loan from Leeds United), Kieffer Moore (Bournemouth), Mark Harris (Cardiff City), Brennan Johnson (Nottingham Forest)

Wales begin their World Cup campaign against the USA on November 21 at 7pm