Still no end in sight to 54 years of Wales's hurt
THIRTY-FIVE years and one day ago, Wales's hopes of qualifying for their second ever World Cup were almost literally snatched away by Scotland.
The two sides met at Anfield on October 12, 1977, both knowing a victory would secure their place at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.
Quarter-finalists at the previous summer's European Championships but without an appearance at the World Cup since 1958, this was a tantalising prospect for Wales.
But they were denied by one of the most controversial interventions in British football history.
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With the game finely poised and goalless in the second half, Scotland's Asa Hartford hurled a long throw towards his team-mate Joe Jordan in the Wales box.
Under pressure from Welsh defender David Jones, Jordan appeared to handle the ball but, to everyone's bemusement, French referee Robert Wurtz gave Scotland a penalty.
There were protestations from Welsh players and fans, but Scottish captain Don Masson coolly converted the spot-kick before Kenny Dalglish's late goal sealed a 2-0 win and left Wales's World Cup hopes in tatters.
One man with a better view than most of the incident was Wales goalkeeper Dai Davies.
The former Swansea City stopper recalls the moment vividly, and maintains that Wales's qualification ambitions were dashed the moment Jordan's hand brushed the ball.
"Without any shadow of a doubt, the game hinged on that moment," he says.
"I tried to point out to the referee that he had made a mistake but he threatened to book me.
"It was a penalty that never should have been.
"It was clearly Jordan's hand which touched the ball, but the luck went against us that night.
"I think the decision just showed that it wasn't meant to be our night.
"We tried our best, but it just wasn't enough."
Following crowd trouble at their match against Yugoslavia at Ninian Park in 1976, Wales were ordered to play the Scotland tie at an alternative venue.
The new stadium had to be a certain distance away from Cardiff, and Davies reckons the number of Scottish fans at Anfield gave Wales's opponents an edge.
"We gave our home advantage away by playing the game at Anfield," he says.
"When we arrived at the ground, our bus was shaken from side to side by Scotland fans.
"We were greeted by a sea of blue, rather than the sea of red we were expecting to see.
"It was quite a close encounter. John Toshack hit the bar before Scotland scored and we had other chances.
"It was tight, but the handball and the first goal changed everything."
The match at Anfield was one of many meetings between Wales and Scotland during that era, when the Home Internationals saw the British nations do battle on a yearly basis.
The British Home Championship ceased in 1984 and, although Wales have since encountered Scotland in friendlies, Davies reckons rivalries were fiercer when they faced each other annually.
"It was always a needle match against Scotland," he says.
"We always knew what to expect from Scotland, there was always a grudge there.
"We were used to them because we used to face them in the home internationals.
"This generation won't be used to them in the same way because they've missed out on the home internationals.
"I think that's affected Wales.
"When they played England recently they looked scared, as if they were showing them too much respect.
"We used to look at England as a nuisance, and we used to get really stuck into them."
The defeat to Scotland may have cost Wales their place at the 1978 World Cup, though Davies was a part of the squad which reached the quarter-finals of the 1976 European Championships.
At the time, only four countries contested the final tournament so, having finished top of their qualifying group and lost to Yugoslavia in a two-legged quarter-final, Wales were denied an appearance at the showpiece event.
The format changed to a model closer to the current form for the 1980 European Championships, and Davies laments the fact that Wales's march to the last eight came four years too soon.
"It's a shame that people don't recognise the achievements of that side," he says.
"Mike Smith did a brilliant job as manager, and the team did very well to reach the quarter-finals.
"There were no superstars in that side, but there was a great team ethic."
Despite the efforts of the 1976 vintage, the spectre of the 1958 World Cup still looms large over Welsh football.
The fabled quarter-final defeat to Pele's Brazil, however, might never have been.
Wales initially failed to qualify from their group alongside Czechoslovakia and East Germany, but they secured their place at the tournament after a play-off win against Israel.
"I think the team of 1958 used up all the luck for Wales," Davies says.
"They had a lot of great players but they didn't qualify automatically for it.
"Without showing disrespect to them, they did seem to pinch the luck from all the teams since.
"Jack Kelsey and Ivor Allchurch were heroes of mine, but Wales don't seem to have had any luck since then."
The current Welsh side will need a lot of luck — if not a minor miracle — to reach the 2014 World Cup after two defeats from their first two qualifiers.
Scotland have also struggled with two draws to date, and Davies believes Wales could register their first points of the campaign at the Cardiff City Stadium this evening.
"Wales have got a reasonably good record against Scotland. I think they'll match them tonight," he says.
"The thing about Wales is which team will turn up on the day. It's frightening how inconsistent they are.
"They haven't got a huge amount of talent, but a reasonable amount.
"I don't know what to expect from Wales, but they will have a good chance."
Even if Wales beat Scotland tonight, Chris Coleman's side face a gargantuan task trying to secure their place for Rio in two years.
And until their flights are booked for the next significant international competition, Davies admits Wales will be haunted by tales of near misses.
"Those games will always be a part of the Welsh football psyche," he says.
"People will always bring up those matches until they qualify for another major tournament.
"It's a monkey that they really need to get off their backs."