Sports Desk, Jun 5 (EFE).- Sixty-four years after the World Cup quarterfinals it reached in Sweden in 1958, Wales will once again play in the soccer world’s main event in Qatar later this year after downing Ukraine 1-0 in the European playoff final on Sunday.
Wales team captain Gareth Bale and goaltender Wayne Hennessey were both instrumental in the victory in the stadium in Cardiff City before some 30,000 fans with the lone goal in the decisive match coming when Ukraine’s Andriy Yarmolenko scored an own-goal by heading the ball into his own net while trying to clear Bale’s free kick in minute 34.
The 32-year-old Bale, suffering from ongoing back spasms, had put his whole effort in recent months into getting his national team into the World Cup for the second time in its history.
Although Wales is on top of the world with the win, it was a bitter blow for war-ravaged Ukraine, which was looking for a sports victory at a trying moment for the East European nation as it fights off a massively destructive Russian military invasion.
The match was refereed by Antonio Mateu Lahoz, of Spain, and both teams showed considerable respect for one another all the way through the contest, with great play charged with emotional content and the ball changing hands a number of times, each team probing and sallying forth only to have their drives come to nought.
Hennessey was absolutely marvelous, capturing or diverting nine Ukrainian shots on goal and keeping the East Europeans at zero.
In the final stretch, with each team driving for the other’s net, the ball changed hands multiple times and there was danger at every turn with the heartstopper coming six minutes before the end with Ukraine, on a pass from the left from Vitali Mykolenko to Artem Dovbyk, almost tying things up as Dovbyk attempted a header that Hennessey stopped in masterful style.
“It’s the greatest result in the history of Welsh football,” Bale, replaced on the verge of exhaustion 10 minutes before time, said after the match. “I’m 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.”
Bale, a five-time Champions League winner, is presently rootless in the soccer world after being released by Real Madrid, nevertheless claiming to have “loads” of offers as a free agent.
Wales will play its first World Cup match against the United States on Nov. 21 in Qatar and will then go up against Iran and England in Group B action.
Wales: Wayne Hennessey; Connor Roberts, Ben Davies, Joe Rodon, Neco Williams (Rhys Norrington-Davies, m.93); Ethan Ampadu, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, Daniel James (Brennan Johnson, m.71) Kieffer Moore and Gareth Bale (Harry Wilson, m.83).
Coach: Robert Page
Ukraine: Georgi Buschan; Oleksandr Karavaev, Illia Zabarnyi, Mykola Matvienko, Vitali Mykolenko; Taras Stepanenko (Sergiy Sydorchuk, m.70); Andriy Yarmolenko, Ruslan Malinovsky (Mykola Shaparenko, m.70), Oleksandr Zinchenko, Viktor Tsygankov (Mykhailo Mudryk, m.77); and Roman Yaremchuk (Artem Dovbyk, m.77).
Coach: Oleksandr Petrakov.