Football: Wales on their way to the last-chance saloon: Peter Corrigan finds Terry Yorath contemplating two different futures

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

UNLIKE the last man to have his sporting dreams obliterated at Cardiff Arms Park, Terry Yorath will at least see it coming. The fate that may be in store for the Welsh manager is capable of having much the same effect as a haymaking left hook, but it won't carry any surprise for a man whose chin is already braced for the blow.

As we walked past the famous stadium on Thursday morning on our way to a bacon sandwich, he squinted into the autumn sunshine and said: 'I could soon be walking up this street as the manager of a team that has made the World Cup finals.

'Or I could be out of work. It'll be one or the other.'

Wales's presence in the finals in the United States next year depends on their winning their next two games at Cardiff, against Cyprus on Wednesday and against Romania five weeks later. Defeat or a draw this week will bring an abrupt end to the American fantasies that have slowly been taking shape in the Principality. Victory will once more take Wales to the wire with only Romania, and a kind result elsewhere, standing between them and a journey to untold riches and glory in the States.

November is also the month in which Yorath's contract comes to its end. Nothing has been said to him, but he gets the clear impression that either Wales are going West, or he is.

Even in an area of sporting life renowned for the extremes of fortune to which its managers are prey, these are harshly varied alternatives. Scotland's coach, Andy Roxburgh, has already gone, following his team's loss of any qualifying chance, and the future of Graham Taylor if England fail on Wednesday is hardly worth discussing. But their reigns are not comparable to Yorath's, which is less than six years old and which has seen his team beat West Germany, Brazil, Italy (away) and Belgium (twice).

That Wales have little to show for these triumphs is due to a frustrating tendency to trip over the last hurdle when in sight of qualification for a major championship, a failing that was already embedded deeply in the Welsh footballing tradition long before Yorath become manager. You could make a Father Christmas beard out of the whiskers by which Wales have missed qualifying for big tournaments. Indeed, if they don't beat Cyprus it will be a rare failure at the last-but-one ditch.

With Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs and Dean Saunders at the peak of club form, even the defensively resilient form that Cyprus have shown in this group is not likely to be enough. Yorath is the envy of the rest of the world in having such material with which to mould a striking force, but he hasn't the quality in midfield to be able to take any opposition lightly. At least he can use the ability of Gary Speed, who was not available for the last match against an RCS side who turned out to be too formidable for comfort.

A Welsh win that night would have made matters a lot easier. In the end, though, they were relieved to take the point that set up this exciting two-match finale.

'It is in our favour that we can afford to be patient,' says Yorath. 'We are so far behind our rivals on goal difference that a one-goal win will be as good as four. That takes off a bit of the pressure, although we obviously want as handsome a victory as we can get. If we beat them we are just a touch away from being in the World Cup finals. I don't think anyone realises what that would do for Welsh football and for the Welsh nation. It would be tremendous.'

And if they don't? 'I'm proud of all the progress we've made in developing the game below senior level. And it is great that we keep getting this close considering that the seeding system continually puts us into tough groups. But you have to accept that this game is all about results, and I'm not afraid to have my future settled by them.'