Salutary tale from a decade ago offers inspiration for Wales

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Before every Ashes contest, the Australian captain, Steve Waugh, describes to those who have yet to lose a series to England what the pain feels like. Perhaps men like Jason Koumas or Robbie Savage should listen to the words of Paul Bodin, whose missed penalty 10 Novembers ago ensured Wales would fail to qualify for the 1994 World Cup finals.

It was a similar scenario against Romania at Cardiff Arms Park as it will be against the Russians at the Millennium Stadium tonight. Wales needed victory to erase all the ghosts of previous near-misses, most notably against Scotland which saw them just fail to reach the World Cups of 1978 and 1986.

"When I reflected a long time afterwards, I realised just how close we had come," said Bodin, who is now a coach at Swindon. "At the time I was dreadfully upset about it but it's only when time gives you the opportunity to reflect that you realise just what it meant.

"There was a delay before the penalty with the Romanians contesting the decision. Their goalkeeper picked the ball up and kissed it. I remember wiping the kiss from the ball with my sleeve and maybe that put a jinx on it. It's unfortunate I never got the chance to make amends. I'm not like Stuart Pearce who got the chance to take other big penalties for his country."

Bodin thought his miss hurt more because so many of Terry Yorath's side were in their thirties. Mark Hughes' team is collectively younger, although for Gary Speed, Mark Pembridge and Andy Melville, all of whom were at the Arms Park in 1993, failure this evening will represent the end of their international line.

"It was a strange feeling in the dressing-room," Melville recalled. "When you're on the pitch you can do something about it but in the dressing-room you're helpless. It was hard to put into words.

"It began a downturn in Welsh football. Was it a better side then than now? Perhaps defensively. It's a difficult question."

Speed thought there would be other finals. "I can't remember what I thought at the time," he said yesterday. "I had just won the Premier League with Leeds, we had a chance to qualify for a World Cup and I thought it would be like this every year. Football's not like that. It's up to us now. All I am thinking of is the final whistle and being on the pitch celebrating. I have been thinking about it all week."

Throughout this campaign Hughes has stressed what qualification would mean to the people of Wales, how it would take football out of rugby's shadow and what it would represent to its status as a nation. Yesterday, as the moment of truth came relentlessly forward to embrace him, he talked of its significance to the 11 men who really matter tonight, the players.

"It is," he said, using words which Paul Bodin would agree with, "a game that could change their careers for the rest of their lives."