Ireland Break Wales Hearts to Book World Cup Playoff Spot
The highs and lows of football were summed up in Cardiff on Monday evening, as Wales’ World Cup dreams were left in tatters by a Republic of Ireland side who claimed a 1-0 win to book a place in the playoffs.
In the summer of 2016, Wales were wowing the continent with their brilliant run to the semi-finals of the European Championship. A little over a year on, a goal from James McClean silenced Cardiff and left Wales’ star man Gareth Bale an anguished spectator from the sidelines.
There have been some great Welsh players down the years, Ryan Giggs and Ian Rush among them, who have never savoured a World Cup and Bale could now be fearing his name will be added to the list.
The forward’s fragile body let him down again, with injury ruling the Real Madrid man out of their final two qualifiers. Wales got away with it in Georgia, with Tom Lawrence netting in a 1-0 win – but they came unstuck against a belligerent Ireland side who stuck to their gameplan to the letter.
The equation was a simple one: a draw or win would see Wales advance to the playoffs; Ireland needed a win to leapfrog their opponents.
Martin O’Neill’s Ireland sat back and absorbed lots of red pressure with the aim being to carve out a chance. They were not flashy, but they fronted up to every challenge and when the opportunity came their way, 12 minutes into the second half, they took it.
Jeff Hendrick picked Ashley Williams’ pocket, dashed down the flank and delivered a ball into the middle. It had Harry Arter’s name on it, but he dummied to give McClean the space to sweep the ball home. Ireland rejoiced, one pocket of green dancing up and down amidst a stunned sea of red in Wales’ national stadium.
It was a goal that highlighted McClean’s undoubted talent, but he is not afraid of the dark arts and a crunching tackle on Aaron Ramsey in the opening minutes was an indicator of where Ireland were prepared to go to get the job done.
They did get the job done, as they absorbed everything Wales threw at them in the final 30 minutes.
It’s not yet job done for Ireland, far from it, as they will have to navigate their way through a playoff – but they have given themselves at least a shot at making it to Russia.
Ireland will be underdogs in the playoffs due to their ranking, but it would be unwise to write them off and whoever they face will know they have been in a battle.
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