Wrexham AFC legend Joey Jones expects Wales to make history

Reporter:

Richard Williams

JOEY JONES expects history to be made in the coming days and he believes Wales can handle playing on the big stage.

Wales have not appeared at a major tournament since the 1958 World Cup, but Chris Coleman’s side only need one point from their last two games to qualify for next summer's European Championship finals in France.

Unbeaten at the top of Group B, Wales need just a point to qualify ahead of matches with Bosnia in Zenica tomorrow and Andorra at Cardiff City Stadium next Tuesday, with Jones confident Gareth Bale and his team-mates will finish the job.

“It is not just me, it would mean a lot to everybody in Wales who supports football,” said Jones.

“Everybody wants to see Wales in the European Championships and it would give everybody a boost.

“For a change we can say we are there. I know we haven’t got over the line yet but if we don’t do it this weekend, I am sure we will do it against Andorra.

“To be honest, if you can’t do it against Andorra you don’t deserve to be going to the finals.”

Jones, a former defender who won 72 Welsh caps, added: “I imagine the players are on a high, the supporters have got the feel-good factor, and there is nothing better.

“I think that we will get there and it is going to be brilliant. 

“We have always been the bridesmaid, never been a bride, so hopefully it will turn around this time.”

The remarkable turnaround in fortunes has seen Wales climb to an all-time high of eighth in the Fifa world football rankings, and Jones insists that Coleman’s players can take next summer’s finals in their stride.

“When I am watching, when Wales play I always get the feeling they are going to win every game they play in now,” said Jones. “Wales have got a lot of players who could easily play in these championships and rub shoulders with the so called big boys.

“We can ruffle one or two feathers as well I think and I am really looking forward to it.”

Real Madrid star Bale, who has scored six of Wales' nine goals in qualifying, earns the plaudits, but Jones believes there are lots of stars in the team.

And seeing left-back Neil Taylor, who came through the ranks at Wrexham before joining Swansea City, on the brink of appearing in a major tournament is particularly satisfying to Jones, who is still youth team coach at The Racecourse.

“Bale does exceptionally well. It is a bit unfortunate to put it all on him but the way he is at the moment...” said Jones. “But you’ve got loads of players, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen, and it is great to see Neil there.

“It would be absolutely brilliant for Neil, and for Swansea and Wrexham - a player who came through the academy here - to be involved in the championships.”

Gary Speed, who passed away in 2011, laid the foundations for Wales’ rise under Coleman.

Coleman replaced his former team-mate as manager and Jones remarked: “It wasn’t easy for Chris but he has done brilliant and carried it on with the help of Osian Roberts and the other staff there.

“They have come on leaps and bounds and are doing things the right way.”

Wales have come close to ending their long absence from a major tournament on a number of occasions.

Under a different format, Wales enjoyed a run to the quarter-finals of the 1976 European Championship as victory over Austria at The Racecourse secured a last eight clash against Yugoslavia.

Wales lost 3-1 on aggregate and were denied a place in the finals, which only featured the four remaining countries.

“I made my debut in 1975 against Austria when we had to beat them here, and we did,” said Jones. 

“It was an old format then where you played a team home and away.

“We went on to play Yugolslavia, I was substitute in the first game and wasn’t involved in the second game down in Cardiff, but we lost.”

There was a big sense of injustice when attempting to qualify for the 1978 World Cup when Wales took on Scotland in a make or break group game at Anfield.

Scotland were controversially awarded a penalty, even though the ball struck striker Joe Jordan’s hand and not Wales defender Dave Jones, as adjudged by the referee.

It was the converted spot-kick that helped secure the Scots gain a place in the finals in Argentina and heartbreak for Wales.

“Everybody knows about the Joe Jordan handball,” said Jones. 

“I know Joe, he is a nice fella, but he still won’t admit it to this day.”

Elsewhere in Group B, Belgium tackle hosts Andorra and Israel face Cyprus.

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