‘The best game I’ve played in a Wales shirt’ says Wayne Hennessey after nine saves against Ukraine
Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey says qualification for the 2022 World Cup has topped reaching two European Championships in the last six years.
Hennessey was part of Wales’ Euro 2016 and 2020 squads, helping the Dragons into the semi-finals of the former tournament in France.
But the 35-year-old produced his best performance for his country to defy Ukraine in Sunday’s 1-0 play-off final victory in Cardiff – and secure the Dragons’ World Cup spot in Qatar in November.
Hennessey made nine saves as Ukraine had the most shots by a team without scoring during the entire 2022 European World Cup qualifying campaign.
“These are what dreams are made of, this is the top,” said Burnley keeper Hennessey.
“It was the best game I’ve played in a Wales shirt. So what a time to do it and, yeah, we’re going to a World Cup.
“As a boy growing up you watch all the Wales games and we never used to get to major tournaments. So to go to the World Cup is unbelievable.
“A lot of youngsters have come in, they’ve really gelled, and it’s an exciting time for Wales and to be a supporter.”
Hennessey won his 102nd cap against Ukraine, but his selection was not straightforward.
He spent Euro 2020 understudying Leicester’s Danny Ward and made only three appearances for Burnley last season, with England goalkeeper Nick Pope very much the number one at Turf Moor.
Ward missed the semi-final play-off win over Austria in March following knee surgery, and Wales boss Robert Page stuck with Hennessey for the Ukraine decider.
Page said: “It (my decision) didn’t needed justifying. But I pulled Wardy before and explained that I was going with Wayne.
“He understood it and said it was not a problem.
“I was loyal to Wayne after what he did in the semi-finals, and he absolutely paid me back with that performance.
“Gareth (Bale) said it was the best performance he’d ever seen from a goalkeeper, and I would echo that sentiment.”
Wales player ratings in 1-0 World Cup play-off final victory over Ukraine
WAYNE HENNESSEY: Got the nod over Danny Ward and made nine saves in an extraordinary display of goalkeeping. Man-of-the-match heroics kept Ukraine at bay. 10 (out of 10)
ETHAN AMPADU: Benefited from an excellent season on loan in Italy at Venezia, played with a calmness and composure beyond his 21 years. 8
JOE RODON: Little game time at Tottenham this season but a rock at the heart of the Wales defence, handy knack of being in the right place at the right time. 8
BEN DAVIES: Shades of his goal-line clearance in the Euro 2016 opener against Slovakia when denied Andriy Yarmolenko with a goal-saving tackle. 8
CONNOR ROBERTS: Did not get forward as much as usual because of Ukraine’s attacking threat, but as committed as ever and did not yield an inch. 8
JOE ALLEN: Booked after two minutes and put in a huge shift against talented midfield technicians. Maybe fortunate not to concede penalty for challenge on Yarmolenko. 9
NECO WILLIAMS: Wales’ best outfield player. Huge energy down the left flank, both in attack and defence, and plenty of quality as well. 9
AARON RAMSEY: Handed a deeper role alongside Allen and missed golden chance at start of second half, improved as spaces opened up in second half. 8
DANIEL JAMES: The Leeds forward’s raw pace was always a threat on the counter-attack and won free-kick that led to Wales’ first-half winner. 8
GARETH BALE: Just 30 minutes of action since his March wonder show. Came up with the goods again with free-kick that Yarmolenko headed into own net. 8
KIEFFER MOORE: Restored to starting line-up after injury and did not get service Wales wanted, but superbly set up Ramsey for chance that should have been taken. 8
Brennan Johnson (for James, 71): Almost scored with first touch when smashed shot against Ukraine post. 8
Harry Wilson (for Bale, 82): Sent on in the closing stages as Bale understandably ran out of steam.
Rhys Norrington-Davies (for Williams, 90+3): Late appearance as Wales sought to defend their advantage.
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Wayne Hennessey was the X-factor yesterday. He deserves all the plaudits, more than Bale in fact, as his actions saved Wales on numerous occasions. I agree, one of his best games in a Welsh shirt. 🏴
IMO – Think even Joe Allan would admit that he had a poor game by his standards.
The Yarmolenko penalty call; and where he was caught a sleep was not an isolated incident. Was caught in possession to many times when attempting to play out and when Ukraine had numbers around him. He appeared slow, off the pace and late to the breakdown and which was reflected in the number of niggly free kicks that went against him.
Then to mark him the same as Nico?
And he picked the right game to do it