Ire­land stun Wales to seal World Cup play­off spot

Tehran Times - - WORLD SPORTS -

Ire­land ripped up the script by beat­ing Wales 1-0 to se­cure their place in the play­offs for the World Cup fi­nals on Mon­day.

A night of raw emo­tion be­gan with both sides need­ing three points to se­cure sec­ond spot in Group D be­hind Ser­bia and ended with Ire­land’s vis­it­ing fans in delir­ium thanks to James McClean’s goal.

Martin O‘Neill’s Ire­land soaked up the ex­pected Welsh pres­sure in the Cardiff City Sta­dium and landed a sucker-punch in the 57th-minute with one of their rare at­tacks.

It proved a body blow from which Chris Coleman’s Wales, who started the night above Ire­land in sec­ond place and still had eyes on top spot, never re­cov­ered as their hopes of reach­ing a first World Cup fi­nals since 1958 evap­o­rated.

Real Madrid for­ward and Welsh tal­is­man Gareth Bale, miss­ing the crunch clash through in­jury, could only watch on help­lessly in his seat in the stands as Wales suf­fered their first de­feat in 12 World Cup qual­i­fiers.

Ire­land fin­ished the group as run­ners-up with 19 points, two ahead of Wales who paid the price for too many draws ear­lier in the cam­paign. Ser­bia beat Ge­or­gia 1-0 to win the group and qual­ify for the Rus­sia fi­nals au­to­mat­i­cally.

“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,” O‘Neill said.

“That last half-hour seemed an eter­nity. We with­stood pres­sure but we knew at some stage we would have to try to win the game and we did. The goal was wor­thy of win­ning any game.”

Wales dom­i­nated be­fore half­time with­out ever re­ally open­ing up a well-or­ga­nized Ire­land side and Ire­land keeper Dar­ren Ran­dolph was rarely tested.

The hosts be­gan the sec­ond half with a flour­ish and James Ch­ester glanced a header into the side-net­ting.

Ran­dolph then made a su­perb save to tip Hal Rob­son-Kanu’s pow­er­ful header over the cross­bar in the 54th minute.

Three min­utes later Rob­son-Kanu’s West Bromwich Al­bion team mate McClean de­cided the con­test as Wales self-de­struc­ted.

Wales keeper Wayne Hen­nessey’s poor throw-out put Ash­ley Wil­liams un­der pres­sure and the Ever­ton de­fender was robbed of the ball by Jeff Ken­drick on the right touch­line.

Ken­drick sprinted for­ward and crossed low, the ball be­ing ex­pertly dum­mied by Harry Arter be­fore even­tu­ally reach­ing the un­marked McClean, who fin­ished first time with an un­stop­pable right-foot drive.

With news of Croa­tia lead­ing against Ukraine fil­ter­ing through, it meant even a draw would not be suf­fi­cient for Wales to claim one of the eight play­off spots.

Ire­land de­fended su­perbly for the re­main­der of the game although Wales were flat. A Welsh goal would have ended Ire­land’s play­off hopes and their hearts were in their mouths in stop­page time when Aaron Ram­sey fired straight at Ran­dolph.

Ire­land have not qual­i­fied for the World Cup since 2002 and have bit­ter play­off mem­o­ries, hav­ing been knocked out by a con­tro­ver­sial France goal in 2010.

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