09.10.2017 at 19:45 Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
0 - 1
Republic of Ireland
Referee: Damir Skomina
World Cup Qualifier / Prog-match
Hal Robosn- Kanu,
James Mc Clean
Callum O Dowda
Aidan Mc Geady
Wales' 2018 World Cup hopes are over after James McClean's goal earned the Republic of Ireland a victory that sends them into the qualifying play-offs.
At a highly charged Cardiff City Stadium, the hosts controlled much of the first half but were frustrated by the stout defending and rugged physicality of their opponents.
The Republic grew in confidence after the interval and their abrasive approach paid off as Jeff Hendrick dispossessed Wales captain Ashley Williams and set up McClean to score with a thumping low strike.
Wales hurled bodies forward in a desperate late search for the two goals they needed to snatch the play-off place back from Martin O'Neill's side, but they found their route to goal blocked by an unflinching Irish defence.
Although the game lacked quality on occasions, the high stakes made for an absorbing encounter.
Only victory would have guaranteed either team a place in the play-offs, while a win coupled with a Serbia defeat - or draw in Wales' case - would have seen them qualify automatically.
However, Serbia's home victory over Georgia rendered that scenario academic and secured their passage to next year's tournament in Russia as Group D winners
Another near miss for Wales
Before Wales' unprecedented success at Euro 2016 - reaching a semi-final at a major tournament for the first time - the history of Welsh football read like a catalogue of anguish and near misses.
A handball from Scotland's Joe Jordan denied Wales a place at the 1978 World Cup, they were a missed Paul Bodin penalty away from the 1994 tournament and a play-off defeat by Russia cost them qualification for Euro 2004.
Last summer's momentous achievement transformed all that, and it was the confidence fostered from their recent experiences which fuelled the belief that this would be their opportunity to qualify for their first World Cup since 1958.
The tone was set with an awe-inspiring rendition of the Welsh national anthem, with only the first few bars of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau played before the home fans sang the rest unaccompanied and at a deafening volume.
The change in format came at the request of the Wales players and they appeared to feed off the fervent atmosphere as they seized control of the game in the early stages, enjoying as much as 80% possession and creating chances for Hal Robson-Kanu and Aaron Ramsey.
'Wales were never going to score' - Republic defender Duffy
As they had done during March's reverse fixture in Dublin, a goalless draw, the Republic seemed content to defend deep and narrow, aiming to stifle their opponents with a combination of positional discipline and robust challenges.
One such coming together saw Wales suffer a major setback as their influential midfielder Joe Allen was forced off after a tackle by David Meyler, with a helping push from McClean.
That proved a turning point as Wales lost all rhythm and direction after Allen's departure - and the Republic of Ireland exploited that weakness ruthlessly.
Although Robson-Kanu had a header excellently saved by Darren Randolph shortly before McClean's winner, Wales did not have the creativity or craft to unlock a stubborn visiting defence and Chris Coleman was left to reflect on a heartbreaking end to a campaign he has previously said would be his last as Wales manager.
The Republic's gameplan pays off
Graphic showing how the Republic of Ireland's outfield players rarely ventured beyond the halfway line
Republic of Ireland took very few risks throughout with the majority of their outfield players rarely venturing beyond the halfway line
Although some may point to the continued absence of forward Gareth Bale as a reason for Wales' inability to create chances as the match wore on, the Republic of Ireland deserve credit for their defensive resolve.
Even when Bale was fit in March, O'Neill's men managed to keep a clean sheet with a dogged display - and it was a similar tale on Monday.
They weathered an early spell of Wales pressure, played for long periods without the ball and eventually unsettled their opponents with their pressing and full-blooded challenges.
Their winning goal epitomised their approach, Hendrick closing Williams down and forcing the Everton centre-back into a sloppy mistake - before delivering a fine low cross, which Harry Arter stepped over in order for McClean to ram home a powerful finish.
It was fitting that McClean struck the winner, as the West Brom player had personified the Republic of Ireland's aggression, flying into tackles and snarling at his opponents.
O'Neill's team can now look forward to a first World Cup play-off since 2009's controversial defeat by France, notorious for Thierry Henry's handball which helped set up a decisive goal for the hosts in Paris.
Man of the match - Jeff Hendrick (Republic of Ireland)
It was Jeff Hendrick's desire to chase a lost cause and then deliver a perfect cross that led to the decisive goal
'It hurts, but we will learn from it'
Wales boss Chris Coleman, speaking to Sky Sports: "We pretty much dominated the first half. We knew Ireland would have a gameplan and they executed it very well. Fair play to them.
"When we lost Joe Allen our creativity suffered. It was difficult to break down 10 men behind the ball. Martin O'Neill has done a great job and good luck to them.
"My players have given everything but it wasn't enough in the end to get over the line.
"We knew going into the last four games we would probably have to win the four of them. We got three but just at the final hurdle it was not enough.
"What we have done is another campaign where we have taken it right to the wire. Some you win and some you lose. It will hurt for a bit but you learn from defeat and we will learn from tonight."
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, speaking to Sky Sports: "So proud. The players were magnificent playing away from home at a very good Welsh side. To win on their territory was a great result for us.
"That last half hour seemed an eternity. We had to withstand pressure but we knew at some stage we would have to try to win the game - and we did it. The goal was worthy of winning any game.
"We are in the play-offs. Whenever the draw is made we will take our chance.
"The impression of our campaign? Absolutely delighted. When the draw was made I thought we had a very difficult group. We have come through - fantastic."
Wales have won just one of their past 11 matches against the Republic of Ireland (W1 D4 L6) and none of the past eight.
This victory means the Republic end the 2018 World Cup qualifiers unbeaten away from home, winning three out of five matches.
This was Wales' first competitive home defeat since September 2013, ending an unbeaten run of 10 matches (W6 D4 L0).
McClean scored his fourth goal of this qualification campaign, finishing as the Republic's top goalscorer.
All four of McClean's goals came in the second half of away matches.
McClean scored the winning goal in three times - without his goals the Republic would have been six points worse off.
This game saw 58 aerial duels contested - the most in a single game during European qualifying for Russia 2018.
The draw for the qualifying play-offs is on Tuesday, 17 October in Zurich. The first legs of the play-off will take place from 9-11 November with the return legs a few days later.
It was a night of exhilarating joy for the Republic of Ireland and at the final whistle, with players in red shirts collapsing to the ground, excruciating pain for a Wales team whose latest attempt to qualify for a World Cup finals, desperately wishing to play in their first tournament since 1958, has ended unsuccessfully once again.
Gareth Bale, like Ryan Giggs, Ian Rush and all those others, will just have to wonder when, if ever, that chance will come and, boy, did Wales miss their most celebrated player during that jarring, nerve‑shredding finale when they seemed to run out of ideas and Tom Lawrence, with one last free-kick to drop into the penalty area, let the nerves get the better of him. His cross missed everyone, went out for a throw-in, and there was a roar of joy and relief from the only corner of this stadium that was not a sea of red.
It was not long until the victory was confirmed, the celebrations started for real and the team led by Martin O’Neill could start looking forward to the play‑offs, with the draw to follow next Tuesday 17 October.
How many times have Ireland done this over the years? They came here, unashamedly, for a 1-0 win and their game‑plan went exactly as they hoped: soaking up long spells of pressure, accepting their opponents would have more of the ball but making sure, in telling positions, they did better things with it.
James McClean’s goal, 12 minutes into the second half, was a beauty and once they had the lead an air of inevitability started to descend. Wales had so much of the ball in the last half hour but their play became riddled with tension and they came up against a team, camped in their own half, who gave everything to hold on.
It was typical Irish glory, using all the traits that have helped them on their most illuminating nights, with unlikely heroes such as Shane Duffy and David Meyler, and the Group D permutations always meant one team had to drop out.
Wales have come so far under Chris Coleman, most notably that journey to the Euro 2016 semi-finals, but they met their match here and ultimately they were reminded about the miseries this sport can produce. Their crowd sung one of the more memorable renditions of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, belted out a cappella, you will ever hear. Yet it ended with their first competitive defeat on home territory since September 2013 and legitimate questions about whether Coleman, with his contract due to expire in the summer, will continue.
Ireland’s players chased everything. They were quick in the tackle, faced down their opponents when another team might have crumpled, and did all the things that are considered essential for wearers of that shirt. True, there was not a great deal of refinement from O’Neill’s men but there was a great spirit of togetherness and to give them their due, it was a beautifully taken goal that changed the complexion of the group, with such serious ramifications for the hosts.
Unfortunately for Wayne Hennessey it was also a personal ordeal bearing in mind the Wales goalkeeper started it, with his throw putting Ashley Williams in trouble. Williams has had a difficult start to the season for Everton and, straight away, he looked vulnerable. Jeff Hendrick was on him in a flash, taking the ball and spinning down the right touchline.
Hendrick’s cross was aimed towards Harry Arter but McClean was following in. Arter’s dummy was exquisite and McClean struck his right-foot shot, first‑time, with power and precision, arrowing into the bottom corner.
McClean’s first contribution of the night was the kind of bone-rattling challenge, with Aaron Ramsey the unfortunate recipient, that was a throwback to the time Roy Keane introduced himself to Marc Overmars, the old-fashioned way, on the day Ireland qualified for the 2002 tournament. Later McClean and Meyler caught Joe Allen in a sandwich that left the Wales midfielder with concussion, putting him out of the game after only 37 minutes. It looked suspiciously like Ireland’s players might have targeted one of the opposition’s better players. “You will have to ask Ireland that,” Coleman said. “If he was [targeted], they did a good job.”
Yet he did not pursue those complaints and was more concerned about the way “our imagination, offensively, and creativity wasn’t enough – we needed the first goal and started getting rushed and frustrated”. Allen’s absence, the manager admitted, was a considerable loss and despite the late onslaught, his team’s best chance actually came at 0-0 when Darren Randolph turned Hal Robson-Kanu’s header from a corner over the crossbar.
The anguished screams when James Chester’s header flashed into the side-netting told another story about the tension of the night and up in the stands Bale was on his feet, mistakenly thinking it was in. He was wrong and by the end, the contrasting emotions between the two sides was a reminder about brutal and euphoric football can be. “We might lack a few things but courage is not one,” said a jubilant O’Neill.