Wales end 64 year wait for second FIFA World Cup appearance – How Group B shapes up

Photo Credit: AP

After a dramatic night in front of their home support, a 1-0 victory over Ukraine in June sent Wales national football team to the 2022 World Cup. It is huge sports news for the nation who will be featuring in just their second-ever FIFA World Cup campaign. It will be the first since their 1958 appearance in Sweden.

In that previous appearance, Wales defied the odds to reach the quarter-finals. How far can this current crop of players go in Qatar this year?

Wales land in World Cup Group B

Wales have been drawn in Group B at the 2022 World Cup, which pits them against some familiar foes. The top seeds in Group B are their neighbours England, who have a squad stacked with Premier League stars. So Wales will face an exciting Home Nations derby clash during their campaign.

Before that clash with England however, which is in their final group stage match, Wales will hope to have done enough to set themselves up with a shot at qualification.

Group B at the 2022 World Cup also houses the United States and Iran. It is against the USA that Wales will start their campaign on 21st November before meeting Iran four days later.

All the group stage fixtures for Wales are being played at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan.

Former World Cup winners England are the favourites to win Group B at the World Cup. The Three Lions are trading at an odds-on quote to secure top spot.

To their credit, it is Wales who are the second-favourites to come through the section in top spot.

  • England FIFA World Cup Record: P69 W29 D21 L19
  • Wales FIFA World Cup Record: P5 W1 D3 L1
  • Iran FIFA World Cup Record: P15 W2 D4 L9
  • USA World Cup Record: P33 W8 D6 L19

Behind England, Wales are the favourites in the To Qualify market from Group B. They will arrive at the tournament with plenty of respect.

Iran are in their sixth FIFA World Cup but have never been past the first stage of the competition before. The United States have been a little more successful.

The USA will participate in their 10th World Cup tournament. Their best finish happened in the inaugural 1930 tournament when they claimed third place.

Since then, the United States have made it past the first round in four of their eight subsequent appearances.

Realistic chance of knockout football for Wales at the 2022 World Cup

Wales national football team are ranked 18th in the world currently, with Iran (21st) and the United States (15th). So Wales may not be overawed by the challenges that they are going to be facing at the tournament.

England, who were losing semi-finalists at the last World Cup and runners-up at the 2020 European Championships, are currently ranked in the top five by FIFA.

The set-up for the group stage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup sees the top-two teams automatically go through to the knockout stage.

Six points from their first two fixtures could be enough for Wales to get through, before meeting England.

On paper that is not an unrealistic target for the Welsh side.

Not taking into context their recent qualification performances for big tournaments and their overall solid form since bowing out of Euro 2020 in the Round of 16 at the hands of Denmark

Wales vs – The Head to Head

To try and size up the opportunity ahead for Wales, does the head-to-head for Wales against the other group opponents tell us much?

Wales have never met Iran before, so they will break new ground there in that regard. Iran booked their spot at the World Cup by finishing top of their Group in AFC Qualification. In it, they racked up 25 points from their 10 matches, primarily holding off the attention of South Korea.

Wales have faced the USA in two previous matches, but not in a competitive capacity. The Welsh lost their first-ever meeting with the USA in a 2003 friendly. They then played out a 0-0 draw with them in 2020.

The USA had some struggles in banking automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup. They finished third in the CONCACAF standings behind Canada and Mexico.

Only a superior goal difference kept them above Costa Rica, who had to settle for the inter-confederation play-offs.

Wales have a much fuller history against England, although they trail their rivals heavily in the head-to-head. Wales hold a W3 D2 L12 record from previous meetings with England.

Group B World Cup 2022 Fixtures

  • 21st November 2022 – England v Iran, United States v Wales
  • 25th November 2022 – Wales v Iran, England v United States
  • 29th November 2022 – Wales v England, Iran v United States

Wales’ Growing Stature on the big International Stages

Wales have started to make their presence felt on the international stage a bit more in recent years. Their stature in international competitions has been growing.

With them booking a place at the 2022 World Cup, Wales have now qualified for three of the last four major international tournaments.

That was Euro 2016, Euro 2020 and now the 2022 FIFA World Cup. So the most recent tournament history we can look back at is those European Championship appearances.

Their 2016 appearance was the first-ever at the UEFA European Championships and Wales impressively made it through to the semi-finals where they lost to Portugal.

It was in that 2016 European Championship campaign, that their most recent competitive meeting with England happened.

In their group stage fixture, Wales were unfortunate on the day not to claim a point against England, conceding a blow in the 90th minute to lose 2-1.

However, that didn’t stop Wales from winning the group, as they were the only team to win two matches in the section.

Wales’ Qualification Campaign

Wales were in Group E of World Cup Qualification and on paper they did receive something of a kind draw.

In it, the Welsh were drawn alongside Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Belarus.

Belgium had started the campaign as the red-hot favourites and they ended up winning the qualification group comfortably.

Wales followed them home in second place, finishing one point clear of the attention of the Czech Republic behind them.

Wales impressively and crucially went undefeated on home turf in the campaign. A draw against Belgium and a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic in Cardiff were a couple of the key results in their qualification efforts.

Wales finished their World Cup qualification campaign with a W4 D3 L1 record. Their only loss came in a 3-1 reverse in Belgium.

World Cup Qualifiers Play-Offs

With Wales taking a runner-up spot in the group, that sent them to the Qualification Play Offs. So they still had work to do to get to Qatar 2022.

Wales were in Path A and they importantly had home advantage for their semi-final tie against Austria.

Gareth Bale was the hero of the day in Cardiff as a brace from him helped Wales to a 2-1 victory over the Austrians.

That put Wales through to the final where they faced Ukraine.

Ukraine football players had rallied for a superb and emotional 3-1 triumph over Scotland in their semi-final match to set up the fixture.

Wales again were the benefactors of holding the home advantage again for the Play-Off Final.

A single goal settled the tie as Ukraine’s Andriy Yarmolenko put through his own net in the 34th minute. Wales were able to hold out with some smart game management after that to book just their second World Cup appearance.

Sweden 1958 FIFA World Cup

What happened at the 1958 FIFA World Cup, the last and only previous time that Wales qualified for the tournament?

The 1958 edition was hosted in Sweden and it consisted of 16 teams, so it was a smaller format.

Wales had been drawn in a group alongside hosts Sweden, Hungary and Mexico. Despite not winning any of their three matches, a draw in each of them saw them take second place behind Sweden.

That put Wales through to the quarter-final bracket where they faced one of the tournament favourites Brazil.

Wales did a tremendous job of keeping the South Americans goalless at the halftime break in Gothenburg.

The only goal of the game came from the great Pele in the 66th minute. Brazil would go on to lift the 1958 World Cup title with a 5-2 victory over Sweden in the final.

Key players for Wales at the 2022 World Cup

Wales are an extremely hard-working team, who are generally very well drilled and organised in defence. Their star player is captain Gareth Bale who has over 100 caps for his country.

Bale also leads the way in the scoring charts for his country by a mile. Wales will once again need a massive influential input from Bale to push towards qualification for the knockout stages of the 2022 World Cup.

The only other player in the current Welsh squad to be in double figures for goals is midfielder and vice-captain Aaron Ramsey. If those two play well together on the day then they are going to have a big chance.

Between the sticks, the calming influence and experience of Wayne Hennessy is going to be crucial as well. Overall the Welsh squad is a fairly young one, which is a great thing for the future given the trajectory of Wales on the international stage.

The likes of Daniel James, Ethan Ampadu, Neco Williams and Mark Harris point towards a bright future for the Wales National football team. Can this current squad, under the watchful guidance of Rob Page, give them a great platform to build on by producing a strong performance at the 2022 World Cup?