Former Wales ace Joey Jones believes success for the national team would lead to a ‘feel-good factor’ across the country.
Currently coach of Wrexham FC’s youth team, Jones won 72 caps for Wales between 1975 and 1986 as part of an illustrious career which saw him play for Wrexham, Liverpool, Chelsea and Huddersfield Town.
And Jones believes the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey can inspire Wales to qualify for the European Championships in France in two years time.
Jones was only three-years-old the last time Wales qualified for a major tournament - the 1958 World Cup in Sweden - when a side inspired by the great John Charles lost 1-0 in the quarter-finals to eventual winners Brazil, thanks to Pele’s second-half winner.
Wales begin their qualifying campaign with a trip to footballing minnows Andorra tonight, before home ties with Bosnia-Hercegovina and Cyprus in October at the Cardiff City Stadium.
World Cup quarter-finalists Belgium and Israel make up the remainder of Group B, and with Real Madrid star Bale in the side, hopes are high that Wales can end 56 years of hurt.
Jones believes wins in their opening two matches would breathe new life into international football across Wales.
“They need to start winning as there’s a lot of people who won’t even bother watching on Tuesday,” he said.
“If they can win their first couple of qualifiers, suddenly things start getting exciting, and the country will get behind them. Without being harsh, if we can’t get out of that group, we don’t deserve to be qualifying for major tournaments.
“In Bale they have a world-class player, and Ramsey as well is a proven Premier League player. I’d love to see them qualify.
“If ever there’s a better chance to make it to a tournament, this is it, with two going through and at the minimum Wales should be making the play-offs.
“Unfortunately I didn’t get to play in a major tournament and we’ve not been to one since 1958. But what a boost it would be for the people of Wales if the team could make it to the Euros.
“There would be a feel-good factor around everyone, in the way there is around the rugby side. It can only be good for the Welsh people if the players do well.”
Jones said the return of international football to the Racecourse Ground would also help improve people’s attitudes towards the national side in the north of the country.
The Racecourse hosted Wales’ first ever international match against Scotland in 1877, and has hosted more matches (91) than any other stadium. Wrexham last hosted a full international when Wales faced Norway in February 2008.
“Gone are the days we could sell out the Millennium Stadium, although it wasn’t long ago there were big crowds there when Mark Hughes was manager,” Jones added.
“I know Cardiff is where the focus is, but it would be great to see some internationals back at the Racecourse. We had some great games up here, we beat Spain, England, they were fantastic nights.
“You’d get a packed crowd in Wrexham for Wales games, especially if they’re doing well.”
Tonight’s other Group B clash is in Bosnia where Cyprus are the visitors.
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