Cardiff. Wales ended their 64-year wait to qualify for the World Cup finals by beating Ukraine 1-0 on Sunday, ending the war-torn nation’s hopes of reaching Qatar.
A goal against Ukrainian winger Andriy Yarmolenko, who headed a Gareth Bale free-kick into his own net, decided the contest.
Olexandr Petrakov’s side, who beat Scotland in the play-off semi-final, once again displayed a level of football that would certainly have deserved a place in the 32-team tournament in November.
With half the team having not played competitive football since the Russian invasion in February, and with their country’s tragedy on their minds, Ukraine deserves great credit for coming so close to reaching the finals for the second time in the country’s history as an independent nation.
At the end of the match, the disappointed Ukrainian players showed their gratitude to the more than two thousand fans present at the Cardiff City Stadium.
They were then joined by the Welsh players who, before taking their own lap of honour, also greeted the Ukrainian fans.
The home crowd created an atmosphere of excitement before the match with an exceptional rendition of their national anthem, but despite the loud and passionate atmosphere, Ukraine prevailed from the start.
Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was busy in the first half, making three vital saves to keep the score level.
Oleksandr Zinchenko nailed the ball into the net with a quick free-kick, but Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz had not whistled and the goal was disallowed.
Hennessey excelled in refusing Roman Yaremchuk’s shot after he was met with an unmarked ball, then the Wales goalkeeper was on the lookout to save a dangerous shot from Zinchenko and then smothered a chance at Viktor Tsygankov’s feet.
In the 34th minute, Wales took the lead: Bale took a free-kick from 25 meters and Yarmolenko’s attempt to clear a header slipped into goal, past the helpless Georgiy Bushchan.
Aaron Ramsey squandered a great chance to increase Wales’ lead after the break, with a shot from the side from a great position, and then Neco Williams hit the post.
But Wales, who last participated in the World Cup finals in 1958, once again thanked Hennessey, who saved a powerful header from substitute Artem Dovbyk with one hand six minutes from time.