Wales beat Latvia to keep their Euro 2024 hopes alive
Phil Blanche, PA Sport, Riga
Wales kept their Euro 2024 qualification hopes alive with a 2-0 win in Latvia as Aaron Ramsey’s 100th career goal and a David Brooks clincher lifted the pressure on under-fire manager Rob Page.
Ramsey stroked home a 29th-minute penalty – his 21st goal for Wales – before Brooks, on as a substitute for the injured captain, settled matters in the sixth minute of stoppage time.
The victory was Wales’ second in 14 attempts and gives them renewed hope that they can claim a top-two place in Group D.
On a night when Wales simply had to win or be left with a play-off route to Germany next summer, there was further good news before kick-off as group leaders Croatia did them a favour by winning 1-0 in Armenia.
Croatia are Wales’ next Euro opponents in Cardiff next month, and Page can now look forward to that game after heading to Riga with huge question marks over his future.
The 49-year-old was feted as a national hero after leading Wales to their first World Cup for 64 years, but poor performances at that tournament and in this campaign had prompted large parts of the fan base to call for managerial change.
Page had drawn encouragement from Thursday’s friendly with South Korea – and he named 10 of the side who started that goalless draw in Cardiff.
Captain Ramsey returned in place of Nathan Broadhead as Burnley’s Connor Roberts won his 50th cap.
Jordan James made his first competitive start and the 19-year-old suggested he may be a mainstay of the Wales midfield for some time to come.
Latvia had drawn a complete blank in Euro 2024 qualifying, losing all four games, with three of them – including a 1-0 away defeat to Wales in March – by a single goal margin.
The tiny three-sided Skonto Stadium, with cars parked behind one goal, seemed at odds with what was such an important night in Welsh football. But over 1,000 Wales fans were in a crowd of 6,464.
There had been a mood of sporting celebration in Riga throughout the day as Latvians turned out to honour their basketball players, who had recorded a best finish of fifth at the sport’s World Cup, in the city.
Wales should have had the perfect start inside 75 seconds when Ethan Ampadu released Brennan Johnson but Tottenham’s new striker skied over on his unfavoured left side.
Ampadu was off-target from a Harry Wilson corner but Wales were threatening at set-pieces.
Chris Mepham met another Wilson corner at the far post and Ben Davies reached the deflected ball first to force Roberts Ozols into a flying save in the Latvian goal.
Chances continued to come and go for Wales with Johnson wayward again and Ozols producing stops to deny Wilson and Roberts.
There was a danger that frustration would creep in, but Latvia provided a helping hand when Kaspars Dubra bundled over Wilson after 28 minutes.
The incident survived a VAR check for a potential offside in the build-up and Ramsey coolly converted for his landmark goal.
Wales should have been out of sight in the next 10 minutes as Neco Williams and Johnson fired wide when well-placed and Ozols denied Wilson again.
Latvia had shown nothing as an attacking force for 41 minutes before suddenly bursting into life.
Ward shovelled out a Janis Ikaunieks header that Roberts had to clear as the Latvian striker prepared to pounce for the rebound, while Raimonds Krollis almost profited twice after being left unguarded.
Wales suffered a blow four minutes into the second half when Ramsey signalled to the bench to come off, with David Brooks taking his place.
The worry was that Wales would miss Ramsey’s stabilising influence and Krollis went close after Johnson had driven wide.
Latvia might have been reduced to 10 men when Ikaunieks aimed a wild kick at James.
Slovakian referee Michal Ocenas brandished a yellow card before being asked to review the decision at the VAR monitor. After a two-minute check Ocenas stuck with his original decision and Ikaunieks escaped further sanction.
The final quarter became very fragmented with a series of niggly fouls.
Ikaunieks’ 20-yard shot flew into the side netting and, while that would have represented the cruellest punishment for Wales, Brooks ended matters by racing on to Wilson’s pass and scoring with the most delicious of chips.
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