James McClean hits winner as Ireland end Welsh World Cup hopes
World Cup qualifier, Cardiff City Stadium - Wales 0 Republic of Ireland 1 (McClean 57')
James McClean fired Ireland into the World Cup play-offs with a dramatic 1-0 win over Wales in Cardiff.
The West Brom forward's 57th-minute winner following a home defensive error secured second spot in Group D for Martin O'Neill's side and a play-off spot for the finals in Russia.
Serbia finish the campaign as group winners after a 1-0 victory of Georgia while Ireland will go into the play-off draw next Tuesday with the double header looming next month.
But there is only heartache for Wales, who finish third and saw their hopes of a first World Cup finals appearance since 1958 dashed only a year after reaching the last four of Euro 2016.
The first half was a very nervy affair, with neither side able to create any real openings of note. Wales dominated possession, but it was Ireland who had the better opportunities, with Jeff Hendrick guilty of missing the most clear cut chance of the first 45 minutes.
Ireland celebrate victory in Slovenia.Eurosport
Ireland grew into the contest as the match wore on, and took the lead 12 minutes after the break. Wayne Hennessey’s throw put Ashley Williams under pressure, Hendrick nipped in, got to the byline, fired it across, Harry Arter threw a sublime dummy, allowing McClean space to rifle it home - his fourth of the qualification campaign alone. What a time for Wales to fall behind for the first time in World Cup qualification.
Wales huffed and puffed in search of that equaliser, but ultimately fell short, ensuring Ireland made the play-offs with a sensational victory when it mattered most. The achievement deserves the utmost acclaim; no side has won in Cardiff since Serbia did four yours ago, and what a time to break that run. Wales' 60-year exile from World Cup finals rumbles on.
Bale absence made all the difference. Wales’ victory in Georgia on Friday was meant to allay fears that Wales are overly dependent on the injured Gareth Bale, but against better opposition, when it really mattered, Wales just missed that extra quality up front missing. They dominated possession for long spells in Cardiff, but Darren Randolph went relatively untroubled in the Irish goal. That is just two wins from 12 since August 2012 when Wales have been without their Madrid-based talisman.
MAN OF THE MATCH
David Meyler. The occasion demanded the utmost effort from all involved, and Meyler lead by example. Time and again, especially as Wales pressed late in the second half, Meyler was there, making interception after interception. Such a captain’s performance by the Hull midfielder. The booking he picked up late on means he will be missing for the first leg of the play-off – a huge void to fill.
Gareth Bale was forced to suffer in the stands.Eurosport
8’ - SAVE! Whether it was going in or not is a different issue, but Darren Randolph makes a flying save, tipping Ramsey's rasping effort over the bar.
24’ - CHANCE! A long throw into the box causes havoc in the Wales penalty area, the ball drops to Jeff Hendrick, but the Burnley man scuffs his effort into the ground and it is cleared.
53’ - SAVE! Super, super football from Wales. Williams whips a great cross onto the head of Robson-Kanu, who steers it goalwards, but Randolph acrobatically tips it onto the crossbar.
57’- GOAL! Wales 0-1 Republic of Ireland. What a moment as McClean gives his side the lead in Cardiff. A brilliant goal from visitors, but poor from Wales' point of view. Williams gives the ball away after Hennessey's poor throw, Hendrick nips in, gets to the byline brilliantly, fires it across, Arter leaves it for McClean who rifles it into the bottom corner. This is the first time Wales have been behind in this qualification campaign.
71’ - CHANCE! Gunter's cross is deflected into the path of Lawrence, who lays it off for Ramsey, but he gets underneath his shot, and the ball flies over the top.
- Wales have won just one of their last 11 matches against Republic of Ireland (W1 D4 L6) and none of the last eight.
- This victory means that Republic of Ireland ended the 2018 World Cup qualifiers unbeaten away from home (W3 D2 L0).
- This was Wales’ first competitive home defeat since September 2013 (vs Serbia), ending an unbeaten run of 10 matches (W6 D4 L0).
- James McClean scored his fourth goal of this qualification campaign, meaning he ended as Republic of Ireland’s top goalscorer. All four of McClean’s goals in these qualifiers came in the second half of away matches. McClean scored the winning goal in three different matches for Ireland in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers – without his goals, they would have been six points worse off.
- This game saw 58 aerial duels contested – the most in a single game during in this UEFA Qualification campaign for World Cup 2018.