WALES will end a 58-year wait to play at a major tournament after qualifying for Euro 2016 next summer.
Chris Coleman’s side did it the hard way in losing 2-0 to Bosnia-Herzegovina in Zenica, Milan Djuric and Vedad Ibisevic netting second-half goals as Wales slipped to a first defeat of their Group B campaign.
But Cyprus’ 2-1 win in Israel stamped their passport to France and Wales will take their place at a major tournament for the first time since the likes of John Charles and Ivor Allchurch were gracing the 1958 World Cup (although they did reach the quarter-finals of the European Championship in 1976 in the days when they were played on a home and away basis).
Gareth Bale started his first game since damaging a calf playing for Real Madrid on 16 September, but he was not at his sharpest on a night when Wales needed only a point to secure qualification for themselves.
Wales had the safety net of group minnows Andorra’s visit to Cardiff on Tuesday to secure qualification, but Coleman had promised to take the game to a Bosnian side who still harboured hopes of a play-off place with Israel two points above them going into the final two rounds of matches. But Coleman was aware that Wales were capable of utilising the pace of Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu and picking off Bosnia if the hosts over-committed.
It was a tactic which almost paid off as early as the third minute when Aaron Ramsey released Bale and his ball to Robson-Kanu was just about cut out with the Reading man in tap-in territory.
However, Bosnia were also giving their passionate supporters plenty of encouragement with Roma playmaker Miralem Pjanic keen to get on the ball.
Senad Lulic tried to inject some urgency into Bosnia’s play with a forceful run but Ashley Williams ensured it came to nothing before Ramsey broke forward with menace and Bale sent a free-kick at Asmir Begovic in the Bosnian goal.
Begovic had more to worry about at the end of the half when Ramsey bore down on his goal but the chance went begging with Neil Taylor penalised as the ball ran close near to the line.
Pjanic caused some panic among the Wales defence after the re-start but Williams snuffed out the danger and Bosnia were still struggling to place the visitors under any meaningful pressure.
There was a growing anxiety among Bosnian supporters but the news from Israel was good for both them and the Welsh contingent, with Cyprus having taken the lead in Jerusalem.
Bosnian fans were demanding the entrance of Edin Dzeko, who was warming up, and there was little to excite them on the pitch until substitute Djuric struck with 19 minutes remaining. Skipper Williams, for once, missed a free-kick directed into the Wales penalty area and Djuric looped a header over Wayne Hennessey and under the crossbar.
It got worse for Wales with news of an Israel equaliser and they pushed forward themselves in search of a leveller.
But they conceded a second in the final minute when Ibisevic turned home Djuric’s cross from close range. By then, however, the 700 or so visiting fans were celebrating as news filtered through of Cyprus’ victory to kick-start the biggest party Welsh football has ever known.
Bosnia & Herzegovina: Begovic, Mujdza, Spahic (Cocalic 46), Sunjic, Zukanovic, Visca (Djuric 61), Pjanic, Hadzic (Bicakcic 89), Salihovic, Lulic, Ibisevic. Subs not used: Sehic, Grahovac, Stojan Vranjes, Ognjen Vranjes, Medunjanin, Dzeko, Hodzic, Hajrovic, Buric.
Wales: Hennessey, Gunter, Ashley Williams, Taylor, Ramsey, Davies, Allen (Edwards 84), Richards, Ledley (Vokes 75), Bale, Robson-Kanu (Church 85). Subs not used: Fon Williams, King, Jonathan Williams, Chester, Collins, Vaughan, Lawrence, Henley, Ward.
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain).