After defeating Ukraine 1-0 in the final qualifying match, the Wales national team secured their spot in the World Cup. Placed in Group B, Wales is set to face the United States, England, and Iran once the tournament begins in November. While it may be a tough group, Wales has a chance to make it past the group stage, and here are five reasons why.
Wales’ World Cup Drought
The Wales national team’s lone World Cup qualification prior to 2022 came in 1958. After defeating Hungary 2-1 in a playoff, Wales advanced to the quarterfinals, where they met Brazil. The Welsh fell to eventual champion Brazil in the quarterfinals, with Pele scoring the lone goal in the game. After not qualifying for the next 15 World Cups, Wales is back after 64 years. Though the inexperience in the World Cup may be a disadvantage to the Welsh, they will be looking to make their country proud by advancing in the tournament and making up for the missed tournaments in years prior.
Gareth Bale is a major reason Wales qualified for the World Cup and has a shot at making it past the group stage. At 32, Bale is still causing a problem for opposing defenses as a forward. In Wales’ semifinal World Cup qualification game against Austria, Bale scored both goals for the team en route to a 2-1 victory. Throughout the national team’s qualification process, Bale played in 29 games, scoring 13 goals, headlined by a hat trick in the group stage against Belarus, where Wales won 3-2.
The Veteran Experience
Along with Bale, Wales also has a blend of other talent and experience that should help them through the group stage. Although none of the players have been to the World Cup, a number have been playing soccer for years, resulting in valuable experience. Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey will lead the team in the net with over 100 caps, while Danny Ward will likely play backup after doing well in the last Euro tournament. Ben Davies joins as Wales’ top defender while defender Chris Gunter will bring a mass of experience as well. Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey bring a veteran presence to the midfield and Kieffer Moore adds another experienced threat as a forward alongside Bale. While Wales is expected to have a number of younger players on the team in Qatar, its veteran players will add a useful presence.
The Chance to Down a Rival
With England’s most recent FIFA world ranking listed at No. 5, odds have placed the team at -240 for England to win the group. Although England has been a force recently, reaching the semifinals in the 2018 World Cup and the final of the Euro 2020 tournament, with two rivals competing, anything can happen. Wales fell to England in its previous two matches, 3-0 in an international friendly in October 2020 after a 2-1 loss in the UEFA European Championship in June 2016. Given the rivalry and Wales’ recent defeats at the hands of England, Wales will be looking for an upset.
The Element of Surprise
Although England is the favorite in Group B, there could be a toss-up between the three other teams. With the most recent FIFA world ranking having Wales at 19, the United States at 14, and Iran at 23, any team could make it out of Group B. While Bale is still a top player on the national team, opponents may run the risk of underestimating his value to Wales due to his age and recent injury history. This, along with the fact that this team has never been to a World Cup, gives Wales the chance to surprise.