Israel has always had a difficult time in the sporting arena. Mainly through struggling to find teams to play against.
After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, sporting contests were frequently hampered by the Arab League boycott. The national football team found several Muslim countries refused to compete against them.
They were one of the founding members of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), but in the late 1950â€™s things became rather farcical as they tried to qualify for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.
Unlike today when Africa and Asia have their own separate qualifying section, the two Confederations were lumped in together when qualifying began in 1957.
FIFA was still trying to convince nations to compete in the World Cup. For the first time the number of qualifying entries past the 50 mark. Africa/Asia had just 11 entries. FIFA rejected Ethiopia and South Korea, leaving just nine.
The competing teams were split into groups, but for some inexplicable reason they needed a preliminary group first. Indonesia, China and Taiwan were drawn together, but Taiwan soon withdrew so the other two went through without having to play.
The remaining eight countries were drawn into four groups of two. Indonesia and China eventually made it onto the pitch, and both won their home matches. They then had a play-off in neutral Burma which ended goalless. Rather than put on another tie, FIFA declared Indonesia the winner on aggregate over the original two legs, so they progressed through to the next stage.
Syria and Sudan played their two ties and Sudanâ€™s draw in Syria was enough to get them through after they won their home leg.
The other two groups didnâ€™t see a ball kicked. Egypt were up against Cyprus. Pre-independent Cyprus competed in this Confederation. But the Cypriots refused to take part, so Egypt were through.
Then Israel were up against Turkey and the Turks refused to compete against Israel, so the same thing happened.
The Second Round saw all four qualifiers drawn into one group. Political unrest prompted Indonesia to request a neutral venue for their game against Israel. FIFA refused, awarding the match to Israel. Egypt decided they couldnâ€™t possibly take on the Israelis after continuing tensions over the Suez crisis, so they pulled out. This meant Sudan and Israel continued on.
But then this presented another problem in that Sudan werenâ€™t going to play Israel because of the Arab League boycott. Israel were now winners of the Africa/Asia section despite not having played a match!
Finally, FIFA decided enough was enough and they needed to do something about this. They couldnâ€™t sanction a team turning up in Sweden not having played for the privilege of being there.
In the embryonic days of the tournament there were many withdrawals from countries who decided they couldnâ€™t travel vast distance for one or two matches. In addition, you had the tit-for-tat behaviour of the first winners, Uruguay, refusing to take part in the next two European tournaments due to the lack of interest from that continent when it hosted in 1930. This meant there were often teams arriving at the World Cup without having earned the right to qualify.
But what to do?
They eventually hit upon the idea of a play-off against a runner-up from one of the qualifying groups from the other Confederations. Uruguay gave up again and with Northern Ireland and Italy still having to play each other to decide their group, ten nations were put into a draw to find an opponent for Israel.
Belgium was drawn out but they refused to take part, so another team was drawn and this time Wales were chosen. The Welsh had never made it to the Finals before. Having finished second in their three-team group to Czechoslovakia they must have thought their chance had gone. But they hadnâ€™t reckoned on the farce in Africa/Asia and the lottery of a draw.
Wales campaign in itself had been interesting. They were managed by Matt Busbyâ€™s right-hand man at Old Trafford, Jimmy Murphy. They beat the Czechs in their opening game and then travelled to East Germany. This was the East Germans first ever competitive fixture, but to save money Wales only took 12 players. You can probably guess this backfired. Arsenalâ€™s Derek Tapscott was injured and couldnâ€™t play, and John Charles arrived late due to commitments with Juventus. Wales lost 1-2.
Just six days later Wales tried to take the same group of players to Prague but eventually called up two reinforcements. They lost 0-2 and so when the Czechs beat the East Germans twice, Wales thought they were out.
Then came the withdrawals and the short-straw draw and Wales had a reprieve.
In January 1958 the two met in Ramat Gan, to the East of Tel Aviv. As if to illustrate the slightly primitive nature of international football back then, an administrative error meant the Welsh squad arrived in Israel without a ball.
With only physical training the option, they also had to contend with the heat. But Swanseaâ€™s Ivor Allchurch put the visitors in front before the break. Arsenalâ€™s Dave Bowen grabbed their second midway through the second half and Wales had won their first match outside the UK.
Three weeks later the two rocked up at Ninian Park, Cardiff where Israel struggled to lay a glove on their opponents. Goalkeeper Hodorov won plaudits for his performance in keeping out the Welsh attacks. His bravery was particularly noticed as at one point he received a broken nose and concussion from a collision.
The tie was goalless going into the final quarter of an hour before Allchurch put Wales further ahead on aggregate. With just ten minutes to go Cliff Jones made things certain for the Welsh. A week later Jones was a Spurs player and would go on to become a club legend in their famous double side.
Wales won 2-0 on the night and 4-0 on aggregate.
So, Israel were finally out without having scored a goal. The Welsh celebrated long into the night looking forward to their first ever appearance in the World Cup Finals.
It remains the only time a team has qualified for a World Cup having been eliminated from the normal qualifying process. It also meant all four British nations had qualified for the final stages for the one and only time.
The second leg soon earned a particular poignancy. Many will recognise the significance of the date, 5th February 1958. Manager Jimmy Murphyâ€™s attendance at the match meant he was unable to join his club, Manchester United for their European Cup tie in Belgrade. On the trip home Unitedâ€™s plane crashed on the runway at Munich and 23 lost their lives.
Murphy was safe purely by a twist of fate.
Wales first, and at the moment, only ever appearance at World Cup was a relative success. They made it through the group stage, drawing all three matches. They then won a play-off against mighty Hungary, who were runners-up four years earlier. The revolution in Hungary two years before had seen most of the big names leave, but they still had Hidegkuti and Bozsik. Wales came from behind to win a place in the knockout stage.
Waiting for them was Brazil and a 17-year old Pele. The most talked about player in world football at the time, scored the only goal of the game and the Welsh were out.
If they beat Austria in another play-off in March theyâ€™ll be a step closer to their second appearance at a World Cup finals.
To emphasise how chaotic the qualifying stage was for Africa/Asia in 1958, just five of the scheduled 28 matches were played to produce the one representative.
Israel did eventually reach a World Cup finals tournament in 1970. Again, their qualification was beset by withdrawals. North Korea, whoâ€™d performed admirably in England 1966, refused to play them. But New Zealand did, and Israel won both games.
They then beat Australia over two legs and made it to the finals in Mexico. They were drawn into a group with Italy and Uruguay, both whoâ€™d won the trophy twice by then. They drew against Italy and the other team in the group, Sweden, but finished bottom.
In 1974 the country was excluded from AFC competitions, due to a proposal from Kuwait. They were allowed back in for 1978 but went out in the First Round. For the next qualifying campaign they transferred to UEFA and since then have suffered no withdrawals, or political consequences.