The 10 greatest Wales away wins of all time
With Wales facing a tough away double-header in June, Leon Barton looks back at the most memorable times the national team has triumphed on foreign fields (outside of neutral venues).
Let’s face it, our away record is really poor. So much so, that I honestly think a victory in either or (please God!) both our games in June would automatically get on this list. Even an injury time own goal off Dejan Lovren’s arse which leads to a scrappy 1-0 win would be instantly top five because in the 13 games Wales have played in the Balkans, we haven’t tasted victory once. What a game our forthcoming one in Osijek would be to get that particular monkey off our backs…
I guess I should try and explain my choices a little more here. I find it difficult to contextualize – and context is a word you’ll read a lot here – any of the pre-war home international victories over in England and Scotland. We went to both places every other year and they weren’t particularly ‘foreign’ either. They didn’t even play ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ before the game in those days!
We played those nations – and Ireland (and later Northern Ireland) – so often that, almost by the law of averages, you would expect a few Welsh away triumphs. So none of those games are included. Also, the fact that the results of friendlies are not particularly important means only one such match makes the list. It’s performances that you’re looking for in friendlies. A case in point would be our 1-0 loss in the Ukraine in the weeks heading up to Euro 2016. I thought we were excellent that night and – as discussed on podcast #27 at the time – looked like a team with the potential to do well at the tournament (and we were right!).
What use is it beating Italy in Brescia (Maldini, Baresi, Vialli, Ancelotti, Mancini et al) if they’re off to Euro 88 a few days later and you’re stuck at home watching Brookside? So obviously qualifying wins take priority here. Feel free to argue all you like though…see you in the comments section.
1. Hungary 1 Wales 2, 16 April 1975
Context: Hungary may not be a big name in world football now. But they were. In 1953, they beat England 6-3 at Wembley in a game billed as ‘the match of the century’. They’d had 35 shots to England’s five and The Guardian reported:
“the essential difference lay in attack, where none of the English forwards except Stanley Matthews approached the speed, ball control, and positional play of the Hungarians, which were as near perfect as one could hope to see.”
The following year England visited Budapest in the hope of gaining revenge. Instead, Hungary won 7–1; still the Three Lions’ heaviest ever defeat. By the time Wales went to Budapest in the spring of 1975 in the quest to reach the reach of the last eight of Euro ’76, no side from the British Isles had beaten Hungary away since 1909. OK, post-Puskas they hadn’t been quite the same force in world football but the Magyars still had a mighty reputation and had never lost a competitive game at their Nep Stadium fortress. Wales, in contrast had only won one qualifier away from home in the 17 years since the 1958 World Cup (0-1, Finland, 1971) Little wonder BBC commentator Idwal Robling described this as “truly, a famous victory” following the final whistle. Mike Smith’s side were made to sweat for the win, with Hungary putting severe pressure on the Welsh goal in the closing stages but held on for a deserved result. John Toshack opened the scoring following a superb run and cross from Leighton James, making amends for an earlier penalty miss that substitute Brian Flynn described as “the worst spot kick I’ve ever seen”. The Burnley teenager was thrown on the second half for his injured clubmate Leighton James and provided the assist for the second goal, passing to an unmarked John Mahoney following a lovely passage of play to put Wales into a commanding position. A lot of local ‘bulls blood’ wine was consumed by the team in the aftermath, who celebrated long into the night at their hotel on banks of the Danube. Victory in the autumn at home to Austria meant Wales topped a qualifying group for the first – and so far – only time in our history. Will we still be able to say that in November?
2. Scotland 0 Wales 1, 27 March 1985
Again, context. You might not believe this kids, but Scotland actually used to be good at football! Steve Nicol, Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen had all won the European Cup with Liverpool ten months earlier. The Aberdeen trio of Jim Leighton, Willie Miller and Alex McLeish had taken part in the victory over Real Madrid in the 1983 European Cup-winners’ Cup final (yes, you read that right kids: Aberdeen beat Real Madrid) and our Celtic cousins had reached the previous three World Cups (in contrast to England who failed to qualify in 1974 and 1978). Wales hadn’t won in Scotland since 1951, and this was in the days that we would go up there every other year for the home internationals. The 61,000 who packed into Hampden Park in March 1985 wouldn’t have been expecting anything other than a home win. They reckoned without strikers supreme Ian Rush and Mark Hughes though, who, in the words of Scotland’s assistant manager Alex Ferguson “absolutely battered us”. Rush scored the game’s only goal in the first half, lashing home a vicious left footed shot from the edge of the penalty area but the strike owed much to Hughes’ ability to occupy the Scottish defence with his imposing physical strength and competitive spirit. Manchester City youngster David Phillips did a job on Scottish captain and hardman/thug Souness, with Peter Nicholas bearing the brunt of the Sampdoria midfielder’s frustration, receiving a brutal kick to the head. Welsh manager Mike England described the performance as “perfect” and even better was to come the following month, with the truly extraordinary 3-0 humbling of Spain in Wrexham. Sadly, the 1-1 draw versus Scotland at Ninian Park in the September meant an excellent young Wales team missed out on Mexico ’86, although, in hindsight, the 1-0 defeat in Iceland at the start of qualifying had been by far the most damaging result.
3. Israel 0 Wales 3, 28 March 2015
The match where the dream of finally playing in a tournament again started to feel that bit more real. When it came to qualifying for Euro 2016, this game is significant for two reasons. Not just that the three vital away points saw Wales hit top spot in the group after maintaining an unbeaten start, it also saw Israel’s wheels come off following their three wins versus Bosnia, Cyprus and Andorra in the Autumn of 2014. Actually, the wheels didn’t just come off, we took ‘em off…anyone want to buy some wheels? Aaron Ramsey nodded home at the end of the first half and the Arsenal midfielder and Gareth Bale ran riot in the second, with the Real Madrid forward scoring twice, and teasing a clumsy challenge from Eytan Tibi which resulted in a red card. A comfortable away victory against a team seeded above us…how often have we been able to say that?
4. Cyprus 0 Wales 1, 3 September 2015
Technically, we only qualified when the result of the Cyprus vs Israel game came through following our loss to Bosnia in Zenica but after this win, we were as good as there. Certainly in my mind at least. Cyprus never have been – and probably never will be – significant players on the international stage but they’re also no pushovers, as their victories in both Israel and Bosnia during the Euro 2016 campaign proved. Also, on our previous two visits to the Mediterranean island we had been abject: losing 3-1 in 2007 and 1-0 in 2005 in what manager John Toshack described as “the worst international performance I’ve ever witnessed”. Gulp.
What was most impressive about this victory was the patient and intelligent way that Wales dug it out. After terrible officiating saw a perfectly good David Edwards goal ruled out in the first half (I’m still not sure what for) it would have been easy for the players to start feeling sorry for themselves but they stuck to the task and Cyprus came under increasing pressure in the final quarter of the match. The goal – when it finally came in the 82nd minute thanks to a towering Bale header – felt truly monumental. ‘Not even Wales can mess this up now!’ I thought, and we didn’t; although, it was thanks to Cyprus getting the win in Jerusalem that our final qualifier at home to Andorra was purely a party rather than the nerve-jangling affair it might have been.
5. Azerbaijan 0 Wales 1, 6h June 2009
Azerbaijan?!…the fifth greatest Wales away victory of all time? Have you gone mental, Leon? Bear with me here…it’s that word ‘context’ once again. If the under 21s 4-2 win over France in November 2007 was the game when I first thought ‘hang on, something’s happening here…’ this was the game in which those youngsters showed they could take that promise onto the senior stage too. Shorn of star men Craig Bellamy, Simon Davies and Jason Koumas (who played his final international vs Finland that March but didn’t actually announce his retirement until the September) as well as experienced defenders Daniel Gabbidon and James Collins, this was an extremely young Wales team that was even missing it’s best youngster as 19 year old Gareth Bale also failed to make the plane to Baku. 8 of the 13 players who took to the field that day went on to play at Euro 2016 (Hennessey, Williams, Gunter, Ledley, Ramsey, Edwards, Vokes, Church… Joe Allen and Andy King were unused substitutes) as John Toshack began to make a concerted effort to ring the changes following the “rock bottom” of the pitiful 2-0 Millenium Stadium defeat to Finland three months earlier. David Edwards scored the only goal in the first half and although Wales hung on a bit in the second, Toshack was immensely proud of this particular performance, describing it as the highlight of his time in charge of his country.
6. Finland 0 Wales 2, 7 September 2002
Pciture the scene: the BBC Wales studio at half time, with Wales leading 1-0 thanks to a scrappy John Hartson goal.
John Toshack: “The first thing to say is that it’s a poor game”
Mickey Thomas: “I disagree with John there… I thought it was worse than that”
Apparently manager Mark Hughes wasn’t too pleased either, letting the players know in no uncertain terms that their first half performance simply wasn’t good enough. He seemed to still be seething at full time, even after Wales had put in a much better display in the second period to clinch all three points. “Cheer up Sparky, that’s a great result” exclaimed his old Barcelona teammate Gary Lineker after the BBC highlights that night. It was a great result, although even better was to come when the magical 2-1 victory over Italy the following month made the nation (too?) optimistic that the wait for qualification would finally come to an end at Euro 2004. It didn’t happen, as injuries and suspensions took their toll on a paper-thin squad and the manager’s tactical intransigence was brutally exposed. But back in the September of 2002, this was a highly satisfactory win which seemed to signal that the embarrassment of the post-Romania Mike Smith/Bobby Gould era had been firmly put to bed, and a brighter future awaited.
7. England 0 Wales 1, 31s May 1977
Wales’ first- and only- victory over England at Wembley that didn’t involve a last minute Scott Gibbs try. This was also Wales’ first victory over England since 1955 (2-1 at Ninian Park) and first victory anywhere in England since 1936 (2-1 at Molineux, Wolverhampton) Leighton James scored from the penalty spot after being brought down by England goalkeeper Peter Shilton. It was confusion between Shilton and Liverpool defender Emlyn Hughes (who qualified to play for Wales through his Llanelli-born father) that led the foul. “The Welsh have shown the value of having a settled side” commented the BBC’s Barry Davies as the match drew to a close, with the team who reached the quarter final of the previous year’s European Championship chalking up another significant victory. The momentum would be brutally halted by the hand of Joe Jordan later at Anfield that October. When is a home game not a home game? When the FAW puts financial gain ahead of the greater good… sigh.
8. Slovakia 2 Wales 5, 12h September 2007
“You normally have 22 players battling away out there, pretty evenly matched. This game saw 21 players, and one who was just unbelievable, it was a scintillating performance. I cannot recall the last time I saw such an individual performance from a player that had so much influence on the outcome of the result. Craig Bellamy gave us that result. His pace and willingness to run was stunning. The goals were very special and came after the team had gone behind early on.
By the time Toshack got around to writing his autobiography last year which incidentally I reviewed here, he was slightly less effusive: “With Bellamy the positives outweighed the negatives. By about 51% to 49%”. The Welsh captain scored twice and forced an own goal in what was a truly breathtaking individual display in Trnava. It meant a measure of revenge for the 5-1 defeat inflicted by the opposition in Cardiff the previous year although both teams were out of the running for Euro 2008 at this point, with only pride and seeding points being played for. A repeat result would be nice when we return to Slovakia in October.
9. Scotland 1 Wales 2, 22 March 2013
It might technically have taken place during springtime but you could have fooled anyone who was there for the snowstorm at Hampden Park that night. Fuck me, it was cold. Thankfully it was a performance to warm Welsh spirits, with a determined away team battling back from 1-0 down and the half time loss of injured talisman Gareth Bale to record a hugely deserved win. How on earth we came in a goal down after dominating the first half was a total mystery but the turning point came when Robert Snodgrass unnecessarily fouled Chris Gunter following the full back’s overhit cross, earning himself a red card and the visitors a penalty, duly smashed away via the underside of the crossbar by the excellent Aaron Ramsey. Substitutes Jonny Williams (whose impressive debut was rewarded with a mark of 4 out of 10 in the following day’s Daily Record) and Andy King then combined to set up Hal Robson-Kanu’s iconic winner. The first of his five Wales goals, each of which has been iconic nd important. Such a shame Ramsey got himself sent off at the end for a professional foul, missing the following game against Croatia when Wales were unlucky to lose 2-1 after tiring in the second half.
10. France 0 Wales 1, 2 June 1982
The only friendly to make the list. I wasn’t going to pick any but Podcast Pel-droed compadre Russell insisted and considering this was a full strength French team for a warm up to the imminent World Cup, featuring the best midfielder in the world at the time – Michel Platini – Russ is probably right. 8 of the 14 that took to the field for France featured against West Germany World Cup semi final only five weeks later. Six of them also played in France’s victorious Euro ’84 final. Ian Rush’s poacher’s finish clinched the win, our only victory over Les Bleus, incidentally coming in the same city where we hammered Russia at Euro 2016. Maybe we should play all our home games in Toulouse?