The various mathematical permutations behind qualifying for major tournaments can be as challenging as the campaign itself, but Cymru’s route to the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden was far from straight-forward.

In a bizarre series of events ranging from sporting merit to political conflict, Cymru eventually found themselves competing against Israel in a play-off for the last remaining place at the finals.

The chain of events began with Turkey’s refusal to compete in the African and Asian qualifying zone, and as a result they defaulted on their fixture against Israel. FIFA made the decision to allow Israel to advance to the next stage of qualifying and with it a tie against Indonesia. Political unrest prompted their opponents to make a request to play the match in a neutral country, but this was refused. Israel again advanced to the third and final qualifying stage by default, and a match against Sudan was set to decide which nation would represent Africa and Asia at the finals in Sweden.

But while Israel were being fast-tracked, Sudan were also granted a free pass after their opponents Egypt withdrew from the competition in protest at Israel’s presence in the draw as a result of conflict and tension between the two nations following the Suez Crisis. The political dispute continued as Sudan became the latest nation to refuse to play Israel. However, FIFA instructed that no team other than the hosts and World Cup holders should qualify for the finals without kicking a ball.

All the European group runners-up, including Cymru, were placed into a draw to discover who would compete against Israel for that final place. Uruguay and Italy withdrew, and Belgium were subsequently selected to face Israel in a two-legged tie to finally decide who would claim the remaining place. However, Belgium declined the offer, and a further draw saw Jimmy Murphy’s Cymru eventually paired with Israel. The two-legged tie would take place in January and February.

The Cymru squad headed to Israel for the 1st leg, and goals from Ivor Allchurch and Dave Bowen handed the side an impressive 2-0 win. For the return match, 38,000 fans packed into Ninian Park as Allchurch once again scored before Cliff Jones completed the victory as Murphy’s side claimed another 2-0 win. A comfortable 4-0 aggregate victory meant that Cymru would head to the World Cup for what remains the one and only time.

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