Five talking points as Wales eye World Cup finals for first time in 64 years
Wales’ World Cup destiny will be decided by a play-off final against Ukraine in Cardiff.
Sunday’s winners will claim Europe’s last place for the finals in Qatar later this year. So what are the main talking points surrounding the Cardiff City Stadium shoot-out?
1.) 64 years of hurt
Wales’ only previous appearance at a World Cup came in 1958. Qualification was achieved through a play-off when Wales beat Israel 4-0 over two legs, and Dragons’ fans will hope that is an omen.
There is another strong similarity between the 1958 and 2022 as the two managers, Jimmy Murphy and Robert Page, were both born and bred in the Rhondda Valley.
Wales would go on to reach the quarter-finals in Sweden 64 years ago, losing 1-0 to Brazil and a goal scored by a 17-year-old Pele.
There have been several qualification near-misses since with Wales tripped up by late hurdles.
2.) Can Ukraine find Hampden energy?
Ukraine emerged from a six-month international break on Wednesday to end Scotland’s World Cup dream. It was their first competitive match since the country was invaded by Russia three months ago, and energy and enthusiasm coursed through the veins of their players.
The Ukrainians will feel the same groundswell of global support as they attempt to give their embattled nation a lift by trying to qualify for Qatar.
Ukraine were full value for their 3-1 win, but can they summon up the same reserves of strength just four days on from that emotional Hampden roller-coaster?
3.) The final feather in Bale’s cap
It has been a memorable week for Gareth Bale. The Wales captain became the first British player to win the Champions League on five occasions when Real Madrid beat Liverpool in Paris last Saturday. Four days later he penned a classy farewell letter to Real as his nine-year stay in Spain came to an end.
He then accepted an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his services to football and charity, a move that has had its critics and supporters.
The one glaring omission on Bale’s extraordinary CV is playing at a World Cup – and it is a case of now or never for Wales’ record goalscorer and talismanic leader.
4.) Goalkeeper call
The presence of Wales’ big guns – even if Bale and Aaron Ramsey have had limited game-time in recent months – has come as a huge relief to manager Page. It is unlikely he will stray far from the side which beat Austria 2-1 in their March semi-final.
But Page does have a goalkeeping call to make as Danny Ward is available after knee surgery, and the Leicester custodian could reclaim the gloves from Wayne Hennessey.
The fit-again Kieffer Moore and exciting Nottingham Forest forward Brennan Johnson have staked claims for starting spots, but seem set to be used as options off the bench.
5.) Past meetings
Wales have failed to record a win in three games against Ukraine, drawing two and losing one.
The two nations first met in qualification for the 2002 World Cup. John Hartson give Wales a 12th-minute lead in their maiden meeting at Cardiff in March 2001. But Andriy Shevchenko equalised in the second half.
The return game in Kyiv just over two months later produced another 1-1 draw, with Mark Pembridge cancelling out Hennadiy Zubov’s first-half strike. Ukraine won a March 2016 friendly in Kyiv 1-0, with Andriy Yarmolenko scoring the winner.
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Here’s our preview episode of the clash, as well as our look back on the Poland match