Chris Coleman: Wales boss recalls Wales' 1994 visit to Moldova

Chris Coleman
Chris Coleman began his managerial career with Fulham
2018 World Cup qualifiers: Moldova v Wales
Venue: Stadionul Zimbru, Chisinau Date: Tuesday, 5 September Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.

Wales have arrived in Moldova for a World Cup qualifier they must win on Tuesday and, as you would expect from any elite international football team, they are staying at a plush hotel.

However, it has not always been this way.

The current squad's salubrious residence in the capital city Chisinau - resplendent with a spa and rooftop bar - is a far cry from the derelict accommodation their predecessors in 1994 endured.

After narrowly missing out on a place at that summer's World Cup in the United States, a Wales squad including the likes of Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes and Ian Rush had high hopes of qualifying for Euro 96 in England.

Manager Mike Smith was without those three for the October trip to Moldova but, with players such as Neville Southall and Gary Speed still at their disposal, Wales were expected to make light work of their lowly opponents.

Declared an independent nation in 1991 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Moldova had only played their first fixture six months earlier in 1994 and their game against Wales was just the fifth in their brief history.

But if Wales landed in Chisinau as overwhelming favourites, their swagger soon disappeared as they were confronted by the squalor of their hotel, Cosmo's.

"We were sleeping in our wetsuits because the beds were so damp," says Wales' current manager Chris Coleman, then a 24-year-old centre-back in the Welsh side.

"The country was in a lot of trouble at the time.

"It was unbelievable. The beds were wet. It was so damp. We had cockroaches too."

Iwan Roberts
Iwan Roberts made 15 appearances for Wales

Former Norwich and Leicester striker Iwan Roberts was also a member of that Wales team and, having returned to Chisinau as a pundit for Welsh language radio station BBC Radio Cymru, he still shudders at the thought of his last visit to the city.

"It wasn't the best preparation, I have to say. There was only one nice hotel and the Moldovan team stayed there, so we had to find other accommodation and it was horrendous," he says.

"I roomed with Mark Pembridge and we had to sleep in our tracksuits. We had flies in our room, we had cockroaches, we had brown water running out of the taps. So it wasn't ideal.

"We had our own chefs, we brought our own food with us but they weren't allowed in the hotel kitchen to prepare the food, but they're all excuses."

Excuses, it transpires, for one of the most embarrassing results in Welsh football history.

The game had started well for the visitors, with Speed scoring his first international goal to put them ahead after six minutes.

But just two minutes later, Serghei Belous equalised for Moldova and fuelled a raucous atmosphere as the home fans sensed a famous result could be on the cards in their first home competitive fixture since gaining independence.

Serghei Secu gave the hosts the lead and, although Nathan Blake levelled for Wales in the second half, Valeri Pogorelov struck the winner for Moldova to seal their opponents' ignominy.

"We hadn't prepared to face Moldova, we knew nothing about them as a team, as individuals, we didn't know the way they played," Roberts adds.

"We thought we'd turn up and we'd win the game and, looking back, it was a total lack of professionalism really. We should've won the game, we had a side that was more than capable of winning the game.

"It was an embarrassing night for us as professional footballers and for us as a Welsh team."

Fortunately for Wales, things have improved considerably on and off the pitch since then.

Coleman led his side to a European Championship semi-final last year and Saturday's win over Austria revived Welsh hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

They are four points behind Group D leaders Serbia and two behind the second-placed Republic of Ireland, who host the Serbs in Dublin on Tuesday.

Kit Symons and Chris Coleman
Kit Symons (right) played 36 times for Wales

Although the 1994 visit may serve as a cautionary tale, Wales really should beat Moldova, the group's bottom team, if they are to maintain their hopes of qualifying automatically for next year's tournament in Russia.

There will be no excuses this time. Gone is the derelict old ground from their last trip, Stadionul Republican, and in its place is the neat and compact Stadionul Zimbru, opened in 2006.

"Kit [Symons, Wales' assistant manager] and I were out there three weeks ago. It's a new stadium, a new structure and it's really improved," says Coleman.

"They're working hard out there. It doesn't compare to where we stayed in 1994.

"They were better than we were on the night and deserved to win. I felt for Mike Smith on the night because he came into Welsh football and had a real tough time.

"He was a really nice guy and we let him down. We let Wales down. That was a tough, tough place.

"Now after being there recently I can see they've come on leaps and bounds."

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