With an expectant nation dreaming of finally returning to football’s grandest stage after an absence of nearly six decades, you could forgive Aaron Ramsey for allowing the name Paul Bodin to creep into a deep, dark corner of his mind and unsettle him tonight.
November 17, 1993, ranks as one of Welsh football’s darkest days, Bodin becoming synonymous with Welsh failure as the Dragons yet again missed out on a World Cup finals appearance.
The Swindon left-back crashed his penalty kick against the crossbar at the old Cardiff Arms Park as a Gheorghe Hagi-inspired Romania seized the initiative, AC Milan striker Florin Raducioiu’s late winner sending his nation to the 1994 World Cup in America at the expense of Wales.
As Wales welcome the Republic of Ireland to Cardiff on another night of destiny in the capital 24 years later though, you sense Ramsey is exactly the right man to put Wales one step closer on the Road to Russia.
Ramsey of Wales is very different to the Ramsey of Arsenal. Hardened, focused and fired up. One of the biggest gripes from Gunners fans is his lack of leadership skills, yet that couldn’t be further from his persona at international level.
He is a warrior in the red of his country – living up to the ‘Rambo’ moniker bestowed upon him, made famous by the Sylvester Stallone 1980s film franchise.
Wales fans groaned collectively when it was announced Gareth Bale would miss the final two World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and the Republic.
Yet Ramsey was by some distance the best player on the pitch in Tbilisi on Friday, barking instructions throughout and helping his side keep their shape in the final, frantic moments as a crucial victory was accrued.
Bale’s goals fired Wales to last summer’s European Championships, a first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup. And they certainly made up for lost time with a stunning performance that saw them reach the semi-finals.
In France and since, however, Ramsey has proven to be every bit as crucial to Wales’ hopes of success as his more illustrious team-mate.
The 26-year-old has scored 48 goals in 304 appearances at Arsenal. He will be eligible for a testimonial at the end of the current campaign, having entered his 10th season with the Gunners. Yet, in many ways, it still feels like some Arsenal fans are yet to be convinced of his worth.
He always appears to be a scapegoat when the Gunners come under fire for their almost annual failure to sustain a Premier League title challenge in Arsene Wenger’s twilight years in charge.
He scored once and delivered three assists in France last summer and his absence in the semi-final against Portugal proved too much to overcome.
He assumes more of an attacking role for Wales, given license to roam as opposed to the withdrawn role he often plays in the holding two at club level, where Arsene Wenger is spoilt for choice in attack with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez to call upon.
Chris Coleman builds his team around Ramsey, counted on to orchestrate attacks and probe opposition defences.
He’s really come to life when his nation have needed him most too – in the absence or more subdued World Cup qualifying campaign endured by Bale – scoring twice and registering an assist in the last four qualifiers.
Wales, or their fans at least, rightly still bask in the glow of a glorious return to prominence at Euro 2016. But it is a return to a stage they last graced when a 17-year-old Pele knocked them out at the quarter-final stage 59 years ago in Sweden that they truly crave.
They now stand on the brink of making more history. But it is Rambo, not Bale, who the army of Wales fans are grateful to have leading them into battle tonight.
Egypt have had their fair share of near-misses and heartbreak when it comes to World Cup qualifying in recent years, so when Congo pegged them back after they’d taken a 1-0 lead, nerves on the pitch and off it would have been frayed.
But Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, who had scored Egypt’s opener, coolly slotted home an injury-time penalty to send fans wild and end his nation’s long wait for a World Cup, with Egypt last appearing in the showpiece event in 1990.
Here’s the best of the reaction on Twitter.
Congratulations, 🇪🇬Egypt! 👏
Welcome back to the #WorldCup finals and see you in 🇷🇺Russia! #WCQ pic.twitter.com/NMwoR6qMSg
— #WCQ ⚽️🏆 (@FIFAWorldCup) October 8, 2017
Two goals from @22mosalah – one a 95th-minute penalty – helped secure World Cup qualification for Egypt tonight!
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) October 8, 2017
That feeling when you help your country qualify for their first @FIFAWorldCup since 1990 🙌
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) October 8, 2017
— West Bromwich Albion (@WBA) October 8, 2017
— FC Basel 1893 EN (@FC_Basel_en) October 8, 2017
— Sport360° (@Sport360) October 8, 2017
— Anfield HQ (@AnfieldHQ) October 8, 2017
For 28yrs Egypt failed to qualify for the World cup. Then Wenger signed Mohammed Elneny the Egyptian Pirlo and the rest is “Thanks Allah”.
— Danny Welbeck (@WelBeast) October 8, 2017
Impossible not to get chills listening to the commentary of Mohamed Salah’s game-winning penalty that sent Egypt to the 2018 World Cup. pic.twitter.com/YFquwbgCpB
— Adam Serrano (@LAGalaxyInsider) October 8, 2017
Salah contributed in Egypt’s ALL 7 goals in the World Cup qualifications. 5 goals and 2 assists. Egypt’s hero in every sense of the word.
— andrew. (@itsnotJesusXO) October 8, 2017
— Karim Abdelrahman (@K_Abdelrahman13) October 8, 2017
Nothing but respect for Egypt’s new president! pic.twitter.com/u47S21ZR9w
— Dena Khalafallah (@DenaKhalafallah) October 8, 2017
Imagine taking a penalty – in the 95th min – which could end a 28 year wait for your football mad nation?
— John Bennett (@JohnBennettBBC) October 8, 2017
You’ll will never understand how much this means to my beautiful country Egypt. So proud right now 🇪🇬❤️
— Fady Elsayed (@iFadyElsayed) October 8, 2017
44 year-old Essam El-Hadary is finally going to a World Cup.
— John Bennett (@JohnBennettBBC) October 8, 2017
no, egypt just scored https://t.co/9Q2R3N7OTj
— looka🍓 (@lukaux) October 8, 2017
Salah has sent Egypt into full-on Delerium pic.twitter.com/xazIxv7GhR
— Ismail Salameh (@saliday) October 8, 2017
This win for Egypt is so much bigger than just soccer. To have success in the midst of economic turmoil and terrorism for once is huge
— Ameer (@belwrem) October 8, 2017
fireworks going off, horns honking, ppl running through the streets screaming egypt is lit rn 🔥
— heidi (@pathetiqlly) October 8, 2017
Huge credit to Egypt for braving the pressure. Just as for Nigeria vs Zambia, these deciders are never easy, even vs “weaker” opposition.
— Solace Chukwu (@TheOddSolace) October 8, 2017
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, took to Twitter to congratulate Egypt on their 2018 World Cup qualification.
The African nation completed the feat in dramatic fashion as Mohamed Salah converted a stoppage-time penalty to seal a 2-1 win and book his side’s trip to Russia next summer.
The Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates expressed his delight for the Arab nation on the popular social media network.
مبروك يا مصر .. ومبروك لكل العرب .. صعود المنتخب لكأس العالم .. ليلة عربية جميلة .. أفرحتم قلوبنا من المحيط للخليج.. كبيرة يا مصر دايماً pic.twitter.com/s4ilYFeM4f
— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) October 8, 2017
“Congratulations, Egypt & congratulations to all Arabs,” he tweeted.
“Qualifying to the World Cup. A beautiful Arabian night. You brought happiness to our hearts from the Gulf to the Ocean. Egypt, you are always grand.”
It’s been 27 years since Egypt’s last appearance in a World Cup.