'This is our time': Wales hopes to end 64 years of World Cup heartbreak

  • ITV Wales correspondent Dean Thomas-Welch reflected on the 64 years since Wales last qualified for a World Cup ahead of their play-off against Austria

The first manned space flight, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the invention of the internet - all have happened since Wales last qualified for a World Cup. 

Our last appearance at a World Cup was in Sweden in 1958 where a solitary strike from a 17-year-old Pele sent Wales crashing out to eventual winners Brazil. 

Endless pain, tears and near misses have followed that historic moment in Gothenburg 64 years ago.

Brazilian Pele scoring against Wales in 1958, the last time Wales played in a World Cup Credit: PA Images

In 1993, I was a fresh-faced, football-mad, nine-year-old boy. 

I had just started playing football for my local side in Swansea and every time the ball landed at my feet, I'd pretend I was Dean Saunders. I was obsessed with him.

The fact we shared the same name had a lot to do with it!

Saunders was part of a deadly Welsh strike force that stood on the brink of qualification to USA 94. 

Well before Ramsey, Bale, Allen and co Wales had Mark Hughes, Ian Rush, Ryan Giggs and of course my hero, Dean Saunders. 

Me as a boy playing football in the early 1990s. You can see me on the bottom left, next to the shield

Wales' qualification campaign for the 1994 World Cup is one of my earliest football memories.

The golf swing celebration, Andy Williams' 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You' and Welsh manager Terry Yorath's god-like status is utterly unforgettable.

Wales' qualification campaign for USA '94 had started in disaster.

A 5-1 thumping by Romania in Bucharest and a 2-0 defeat to Belgium in Brussels saw Wales firmly out of the picture.

But credible draws against the Representation of Czechs and Slovaks and victory over the Faroe Islands, Cyprus and revenge against Belgium in Cardiff saw Wales just one win away from qualifying. 

It was Romania who stood in our way. The tension before the match was feverish. Terry Yorath described the game as the biggest in Welsh football history. 

Wales playing Romania in Cardiff for the 1994 World Cup qualifier Credit: PA Images

"I've played in European cup finals, FA cup finals and this is the biggest one and I'm certain it doesn't matter how many medals Mark Hughes, Ian Rush and Nevile Southall have got, this will be the biggest night of their career," he told the press before the match. 

On 17 November 1993, 44,000 fans packed into the old Cardiff Arms Park expectant. 

Wales trailed 1-0 at half-time, but with 20 minutes left Saunders equalised from close range and moments later Gary Speed was fouled in the box and Wales were awarded a penalty.

Paul Bodin stepped up and crashed the spot-kick onto the bar.

Romania would go on to win 2-1.

It was over, Wales would not be going to the World Cup.

I remember crying in front of the television with my dad. I couldn't believe how cruel sport could be.

I may be older and my obsession with Dean Saunders may have passed but just like that nine-year-old boy, I will be watching with the utter belief that this is our time.