Wales’ 57-year wait to qualify for a major tournament is finally over after they booked their place at Euro 2016 despite a 2-0 defeat against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday.
Chris Coleman’s side had required just one point from their final two Group B fixtures to guarantee their berth at an elite event for the first time since the 1958 World Cup.
They couldn’t do the job themselves at the Stadion Bilino Polje as goals from Milan Djuric and Vedad Ibisevic condemned the visitors to their first defeat of the qualifying campaign.
But in the end Wales didn’t even need a draw to reach next year’s finals in France because third placed Israel’s shock defeat at home to Cyprus sealed their qualification with a game to spare.
“I can’t explain how it feels. It’s a dream,” Coleman said.
“For the first time tonight we got a bit flustered, but under the circumstances you can understand that.
“It’s fantastic. We’ve all dreamed about this. They have delivered.”
After decades of abject failure and the occasional agonising near-miss, the Welsh team are finally a source of national pride again.
Those false dawns made qualification all the sweeter for generations of fans starved of success since the days when John Charles, Ivor Allchurch and company inspired them to that famous World Cup quarter-final appearance.
Back then the first James Bond novel had just been published, the Cold War was a growing concern, hit films South Pacific and Vertigo were doing big business at the box office and it would be another 11 years before man would walk on the moon.
Wales lost 2-0 to Bosnia and Herzegovina on the night, but still qualified
Welsh legends like Ryan Giggs, Ian Rush, Mark Hughes and Neville Southall never made it to a major international tournament, but inspired by the rise of the supremely gifted Gareth Bale, Coleman’s squad have authored a fairytale return to prominence.
“It’s the best defeat of my life! It was a difficult game but we have done it and everyone is very happy,” Bale said.
“This is right up there in my career. It doesn’t stop here, we have business to do in France.”
Wales’ success is also a personal triumph for Coleman, who considered resigning during a difficult start to his reign after he took over from Gary Speed in tragic circumstances following his predecessor’s suicide four years ago.
Wales were unbeaten in their last 10 competitive matches, but with so much at stake on a rain-lashed night, it was little surprise to see a mistake or two from the anxious visitors in the early stages.
A slip from Ben Davies on the slick surface was almost punished when Miralem Pjanic seized possession and picked out Edin Visca, only for the Bosnian to drag his shot past the far post.
Ramsey was far more assured than his team-mate and tried to catch Bosnia’s Chelsea goalkeeper Asmir Begovic off his line with an audacious 35-yard free-kick that curled just wide.
Betraying his recent lack of match action, Bale wasn’t at his best in the first half and a long-range free-kick from the Real Madrid forward never threatened to trouble Begovic.
Ramsey’s quick feet in a tight space set up a chance for Taylor that was snuffed out by excellent defending from Emir Spahic on the stroke of half-time.
Wales were competing ferociously but a lack of cutting edge proved costly and Bale, off-balance as he surged into the penalty area, couldn’t keep his strike on target soon after the interval.
Coleman’s usually rock-solid rearguard suffered a rare meltdown in the 71st minute to hand Bosnia the lead.
A high free-kick in the penalty area should have been easy for Wales to deal with, but Ashley Williams missed his header and, as the ball bounced 10 yards from goal, Chris Gunter was unable to react quickly enough to stop substitute Djuric looping his header over goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey.
Fortunately for Coleman’s team luck was on their side as Israel capitulated against the Cypriots, making Ibisevic’s close-range finish in the 90th minute a mere footnote as the Welsh celebrations began in earnest.