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The World Cup 1958, the Munich air disaster and Wales manager Jimmy Murphy. No balls ?
Monday, 15th Nov 2021 11:42 by Gruff Stephens & Keith Haynes

In part one of our intriguing story in to the Wales 1958 World Cup journey we covered some of the bizarre decision making policies of the then Wales FA governing body. Now it’s time to wrap up the the rest of the story in part two. It doesn’t get better, in fact in a few circumstances it seems not a lot was learned.

Incredibly Israel, Turkey, Indonesia and Sudan, had as much to do with Wales World Cup journey as our national side did itself. All were drawn in the Asia area for qualification. All four countries were drawn in a knock out qualifier, but the aforementioned countries refused to play bar Israel. Turkey refused to play Israel as they felt they should be in the European group, Indonesia were then drawn against Israel and when they refused to play, Sudan got the nod. Sudan refused to play as well, both for obvious political reasons. FIFA had a ruling that stated that any country in qualification had to play at least one game. Turkey, Indonesia and Sudan, had neither filled that obligation nor tried to, so Israel were awarded the right to progress to the finals. However, FIFA applied the same rule to Israel leaving them with four nations having not played a single game. And none could qualify, even though Israel had won the group.

We have purposely left out Egypt who also refused to even consider playing Israel at any time due to the Suez crisis just concluding. Even when Indonesia offered a solution to FIFA that they would play against Israel but on neutral ground it was refused.

A quandary.

FIFA resorted to what FIFA does best and turned it in to a lottery, quite literally. They drew lots with the second placed group sides from Europe who hadn’t qualified for the World Cup included. Wales being one of the countries. Belgium were drawn out and plans were made for them to face Israel over two legs, the usual home and away format. Then Belgium decided they didn’t want to play. Without going in to it in as much depth as we could other countries then stated they didn’t want to play either. Then Wales were drawn out of an ever decreasing pot and were awarded the home and away tie against Israel. The ties would take place in 1958 on the 15th January in Israel, and the 5th February in Wales.

It’s one of those you couldn’t make it up scenarios.

So what effect did the Munich air disaster have on the Wales team ? It just adds more madness to the whole story really. Wales manager, Jimmy Murphy, was also assistant to Matt Busby at Manchester United at this time. As the Wales game against Israel in Cardiff was played on February 5th it meant he missed United’s trip to play Red Star Belgrade on the same day, so was not present on the flight that crashed in Munich a day later. Murphy went on to be credited with the resurgence of Manchester United post the air disaster taking charge of Manchester United whilst Sir Matt Busby spent a long time in convalescence.

Jimmy Murphy who passed away in 1989

Wales then were to play off against Israel over two legs. A full squad ( a round of applause Welsh FA ) travelled to Ramat Gan,Tel Aviv, and stayed in a hotel near by. The temperatures were around 26c, and Wales manager Murphy made the odd decision the players couldn’t use the hotel pool as he believed it would affect their strength training. Their energy would be sapped by the extreme heat. Okay, well Murphy was the manager but that seemed another very strange decision.

That would leave the Wales squad with more time to prepare for the fixture of course, but then here was another problem. Nobody had brought any footballs to Israel for the Wales team to train with. Yes, they had landed in Israel for a World Cup play off with literally no balls. Why Wales didn’t try and purchase any balls in Israel remains a mystery to most, but Murphy decided there was no need and strength training was the only way forwards. So Wales went in to the game having not kicked a ball.

We told you it was mad didn’t we ?

Wales are welcomed to Israel in Tel Aviv

Wales of course were favourites and ended up beating Israel 4-0 over the two legs. Winning 2-0 in Israel cheered on by a hundred Welsh servicemen who had flown in from Cyprus in a 55,000 crowd. Then it was 2-0 again in Wales in front of 38,000. Surprisingly after the long road it took to see Wales qualify for the World Cup that year the games themselves went pretty smoothly. The only real issue was an injury to John Charles which would resurface again in the finals in Sweden. Wales were starting to impress on the pitch and that led to a World Cup campaign that took them to the quarter finals of the competition in Sweden. The Israel game away was the first time Wales had played and won a competitive game outside of the United Kingdom.

We don’t do it easily do we ?

John Charles introduces himself to Israel keeper Ya’acov Chodoroff

Chodoroff ends up with a broken nose and torn shoulder ligaments, no subs, he played on

We hope you have enjoyed our two part features on how Wales qualified for the 1958 World Cup, it’s all on tomorrows game now against Belgium.

Watch the first leg away, Wales v Israel goals here

And the second leg here

Photographs licensed from Reuters

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