Wales must play with the handbrake to secure a late win against old foes England | World Cup 2022

I watched Wales’ second World Cup match at Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff. At the same venue I saw the Strokes, Afrika Bambaataa and Roots Manuva play in their twenties but there was never a Clwb headliner like Wales v Iran. As I drove through Cardiff city center last Friday morning, I saw pubs filling up and football fans waving to each other, alongside office workers buying up this pillar of the 21st century Welsh economy, the Boots Meal Deal. People having a pint at 9.35am because Wales are playing the World Cup against opponents we haven’t met since 1978. We’ve always wanted that.

After the 1-1 draw with the United States in the opener, fans were hoping for a Euro 2020 repeat: a nervous stalemate in the opener against Switzerland, followed by Bale and Ramsey rolling back the years to outclass Turkey and see us reach last place. 16; Gareth and Aaron add to the evidence that there are in fact two real Princes of Wales. We were all disappointed. A deserved win for Iran as lackluster Wales cracked in the final two minutes of stoppage time. Even a victory in the last group game may not be enough.

And so, off to England. Many, if not most, of our fans were disappointed when we were drawn into the same group as our next door neighbors. While the European Championship is about big international derbies and continental heavyweights battling it out, part of the appeal of the World Cup is new teams, strange encounters, different experiences, something that can only be provided by the familiarity of Luke Shaw and Mason. To go up. Before last Monday night, the only competitive matches Wales had played against non-European opponents were against Mexico and Brazil in 1958. Declan Rice was not part of the plan for this world football festival.

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It’s a World Cup like no other. For the past 12 years, the Guardian has reported on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is collected on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football homepage for those who want to dig deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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Seeing such recognizable faces on the pitch is shocking at a major tournament, giving a Sky Super Sunday feel to a game taking place in a different time zone, both on and off the pitch. Some South American countries might have a bigger problem with hooliganism. German supporters could be more organised, the tifo phenomenon could make Italians more colourful. But when it comes to one of football’s most feared sights and sounds, the synchronized taunts and stretching arms culminate in a wanking sign as the opposition’s best player cracks a goalscoring opportunity away from the post, the England fans are undoubtedly world class. As seasoned Premier League watchers, we are well aware of the talent Gareth Southgate has at his disposal. Wales must play with the handbrake released. We hope England will not do the same.

England and Wales in football is a strange rivalry. We share a border but the English are more bothered by Germany, France or Argentina, and historically Scotland. It lacks the class element of rugby union, where former English schoolboys from the public take on the largely state-educated working-class Wales team. What it shares with rugby union is an imbalance of resources. England is a country of 57 million people. Wales has a smaller population than the East Midlands. Among football fans, there is far less of the ‘as long as we beat the English’ attitude that prevails in Welsh rugby, which makes more sense when a sport’s primary focus is an annual European competition contested between the same six teams.

Wales haven’t beaten England in football since 1984, in the final season of the much-maligned British Home Championship. Mark Hughes, 20, with the fresh face of an angel and the thighs of a powerlifter, scored the winner just 17 minutes into his debut, in the final year of a tournament that provided the Football Association of Wales a huge sum. of his annual income, but that the English (and Scottish) FA no longer wanted to play. Since then, he has played six, lost six.

Wales fans attend the game against England at Euro 2016 in Lens, France
Wales fans attend the game against England at Euro 2016 in Lens, France. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

There was a very British element to Welsh football when I started in the 1990s. Like today, many of our fans supported English teams. Many of the songs we sang were the same. The big four Welsh clubs – Cardiff City, Swansea City, Newport County and Wrexham – were fully registered victims of the ‘English disease’ and had significant hooligan problems. But that has changed significantly since I fell in love with Wales in 1990.

The FAW have announced that they would like the team to be known as Cymru, rather than Wales. Our fans are now singing in Welsh and English. If part of the aim of this World Cup was to raise the profile of Wales in the world, it actually helps to face England.

No one can be forgiven for thinking that we are no longer a country in our own right. Our cricketers represent England (and Wales). Our athletes compete in the Olympics for Team GB. International football is important because it tells the world that Wales exists, in a sport that is globally more popular than democracy. Tom Jones may have been featured on stage in America as an English singer, but no one is under any illusions about Gareth Bale’s origin. Our greatest player is now under enormous pressure to give us one more moment of magic.

Apart from the rare occasions when we have been drawn against England in qualifying campaigns, or in the group stage of Euro 2016, our paths have not crossed very often since 1984. We have grievances more historic with Scotland, having failed to qualify against them. for the 1978 and 1986 World Cup finals. We’ve been drawn so many times against Belgium in recent years that I now know their starting XI better than some of the CDs I still keep in my glove compartment. But we have to beat England in Doha to have any chance of progressing in this tournament. Winning against a side we’ve beaten 14 times since 1879, in our first World Cup final in 64 years. It’s just another game.

Elis James donated his fees for this column to Amnesty International, which is campaigning for Qatar and Fifa to set up a compensation fund for migrant workers.

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