World Cup 2014: Pele broke Welsh hearts in 1958 - Cliff Jones

By Rob WestallBBC Sport Wales
World Cup: Sweden 1958 & Chile 1962

Not since 1958 have Welsh fans been able to cheer on their own team at a World Cup and the fact Brazil is the 2014 host makes it all the more heart-wrenching.

For 56 years ago, an unknown 17-year-old called Edson Arantes do Nascimento - Pele, for short - scored his first World Cup goal in Wales' last match at the finals.

Wales' road to 1958 qualification

Wales thought they had missed out on a place in the finals after finishing second to Czechoslovakia in their qualification group.

However, Israel had won their section by default as no African or Asian country would play them following the Suez crisis of 1956. And Fifa were reluctant to allow a team into the World Cup finals without playing a match.

Lots were drawn and, of Europe's second-placed teams, Wales were picked to face the Israelis.

Wales won the first leg 2-0 and sealed their place at the finals after recording the same scoreline in the return leg at Cardiff's Ninian Park in February 1958.

Tottenham winger Cliff Jones scored Wales' fourth goal of the tie in the same month that he earned a move to Tottenham from Swansea Town.

Just like some of the Brazilians he would face at the finals, he had honed a lot of his skills on sand.

"When I was playing on a Saturday morning as a young lad down on Swansea beach, it'd be like 20-a-side," said Jones.

"When you passed the ball you wouldn't see it for another 20 minutes. So I decided to hang onto it as long as I could. That's where I learned to dribble and run with it."

Taking on the world and the boy from Brazil

Wales drew each of their group games at the 1958 World Cup, a run that included a clean sheet against hosts and eventual runners-up Sweden.

They then set up a quarter-final against eventual winners Brazil, after coming from behind to beat 1954 runners-up Hungary 2-1 in a play-off.

Jones started all five matches but says he saved his best for the Brazilians. "I had a very good game. My best match in the World Cup," he said.

But Pele scored the only goal midway through the second half and the Welsh, without their talismanic centre forward John Charles, were out.

Jones, like many of his team-mates, still wonders what might have been had the gentle giant been fit.

"I still say to this day if John had played in the quarter-final it could have been a different result," said Jones. "He [Charles] would have caused Brazil problems they'd never faced before.

"Colin Webster came into the team to take John's place... a very good player, he gave it 100% but of course he's not a John Charles."

As for Brazil's match winner? Jones admitted nobody saw Pele as a threat before the game.

"We didn't know anything at all about him," said Jones. "The ones we were focused on were Garrincha and Didi.

"This young kid, 17 years of age, playing for Brazil... who was he? We didn't know but we found out. You didn't have to be a soccer expert to know, half hour into the game, that this kid was very special."

Pele went on to score a hat-trick against France in the semi-final and two in the final as Brazil lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy for the first time.

Overall, he scored 77 times in 92 games for his country, helping them to defend their trophy in Chile in 1962 and then reclaim in 1970 in Mexico, for a third time.

"He [Pele] broke the team's heart getting that goal, knowing we were so close, " said Jones. "We took them all the way and I still think to this day it could have been a different result if Big John had played."

No welcome in the hillsides

The media coverage in the build-up to the 2014 tournament is impossible to escape but Jones says the World Cup in 1958 was low key.

"When we came back from Sweden, there were four Swansea boys: Terry Medwin, Mel Charles, myself and Ivor Allchurch," said Jones. "We arrived at Swansea High Street station and one of Charlo's [Mel Charles'] mates was there and he said: "Hi Mel where have you been, on holiday?'

"Mel said: 'What do you mean where have we been? We've been to the bloody World Cup... we reached the quarter final!'

"A lot of people didn't know. I don't think that would happen now."

Meeting Pele again

Although Wales missed out on qualification for the 1962 finals in Chile, Jones and some of the class of '58 had a chance to lock horns with Brazil again.

"That quarter final in 1958 was the most difficult game Brazil had in that World Cup," said Jones. "When they defended the trophy in Chile in 1962 they wanted some warm-up games and they invited Wales to play two matches against them.

"That was a special moment and they recognised that Wales were a team which stretched them. They beat us 3-1 in both games. In Sao Paulo and in Rio in the Maracana Stadium. It was just an amazing experience.

"Pele was 21 years of age and he'd sort of developed physically, mentally and football-wise. He scored in both games. That's why I say to this day he's the best player I've seen."

In the 56 years since, Wales have come close in their quest to qualify for the tournament's latter stages.

They have been were denied by controversial refereeing decisions against Scotland in 1977 and 1985 and Paul Bodin's penalty miss in 1993, which cost them a place at USA 1994 at the last.

But perhaps the luck that deserted them on those occasions was used up by the way in which Wales qualified for the finals in Sweden in 1958.

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