Robert Page dedicates World Cup qualification victory to Gary Speed
Robert Page has dedicated his side’s victory to qualify for the World Cup to the late manager Gary Speed.
The current coach was reflecting on “an unbelievable feeling” after guiding his side to a first World Cup appearance for 64 years.
Wales secured a 1-0 victory at the Cardiff City Stadium after Gareth Bale’s 34th-minute free-kick was headed into his own net by Andriy Yarmolenko.
Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey took the man-of-the-match honours with an outstanding display that kept the gifted Ukrainians at bay.
“Gary Speed started this 12 years ago, and I want to dedicate that to Gary as well,” Robert Page said.
“He started the culture. There was a change, the environment completely changed. Chris Coleman took it on to another level, and I’ve inherited that group.
“We are just confident going into games now. We don’t hope to qualify for the World Cup or Euros now, we believe we can do it, so there’s been a massive change in the mentality as well.
“It’s encouraging, it’s good, we are going in the right direction. We need to continue to develop these young players that we have done for the last few years, and it’s only going to get better for us.
“We are growing in confidence game by game. I didn’t see this as a miracle tonight. It is not unusual for us to qualify for major tournaments now.”
Robert Page also paid tribute to the Ukrainians who he said were “excellent” and who had given Wales “a stressful game”.
“We knew we had to be at our complete best to get the result, and we had to dig deep at times,” he said. “I am proud of the players and the supporters.
“It’s massive for the nation. There will be people partying in Cardiff tonight until the early hours tomorrow, and rightly so.
“I’ve just said to the senior players that the one thing they’ve had missing from their CV is a World Cup tournament.”
Bale hinted Wales’ triumph will force him to put any thoughts about a possible retirement on hold.
Bale told Sky Sports with a smile “for a little bit”, adding: “It’s the greatest result in the history of Welsh football.
“I am just delighted we are going to a World Cup. It means everything, it’s what dreams are made of. I’m speechless. I’m so glad we’ve done it for these amazing fans.
“I haven’t played too much football these last three or four weeks because of my back spasm, but the most important thing was to get through.”
On Hennessey’s performance, meanwhile, Page added: “I thought he was magnificent, world-class.
“He delivered like we know he can do. I thought he went to a different level tonight. His performance was outstanding.
“It is just an unbelievable occasion. Things like this will stay with you forever. This is the best moment of my football career, without a doubt.”
Success was achieved in the face of the world willing Ukraine on to victory against the odds.
Russia’s invasion of the country in February, and the bloody conflict that has ensued, made Ukraine the choice of neutrals.
Ukraine manager Oleksandr Petrakov said: “We did everything we could. I want to say sorry that we didn’t score. This is sport.
“One team got lucky, the other team did not get all the luck they needed.
“I do not have any criticism for any players in the team. There is no need to touch any of the players. If you want to criticise, criticise me. If the team loses, the only loser is the coach.”
On the situation in Ukraine, Petrakov added: “You know what is happening in Ukraine. We have war raging all over the country.
“We have children and women dying on a daily basis, our infrastructure being ruined by Russian barbarians. The Russians want to hurt us, but Ukrainians are defending their land.
“We just want your support, we want your understanding of what is happening at home. God forbid you will ever understand what we feel inside.”
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