Wales stayed on top of their UEFA Nations League group after a tight 1-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff.
The match was sparse on action in the first half. Gareth Bale clipped the crossbar with an audacious 35 yard free kick, while James McClean forced a smart save from the feet of Danny Ward with a low drive from a tight angle.
Wales’ interim manager Robert Page introduced Keiffer Moore just after the hour, and the subsequent change in formation quickly paid off. Daniel James’ cross was deflected to Gareth Bale at the back post, who headed it back across goal for David Brooks to nod in the winner from close range.
With Finland beating Bulgaria 2-1 in Sofia in the group’s other fixture this evening, their visit to Cardiff in Wednesday evening will be the group decider. The Republic of Ireland will need to avoid defeat at home to Bulgaria that night to avoid relegation into League C.
Ryan Giggs is not taking charge of Wales during this international break following his arrest for assault.
Can Wales win the group? It’s been a binary set of results for Wales in group B4 so far, but their economical efforts to date have left them in charge of their own destiny ahead of the group decider against Finland on Wednesday.
Tonight’s 1-0 victory was their fourth such winning margin in this group to date. When combined with the point they picked up in a tepid goalless draw in the reverse of this fixture in Dublin last month, Wales are one point ahead of Finland and only require a draw to win the group and earn promotion to the A League in 2022-23.
And it is the future that looks bright for this developing group of players, who have already banked their place in the rescheduled European Championship next summer. Wales are now unbeaten in ten matches and have kept clean sheets in eight of their last nine games. If they can keep one more on Wednesday, another staging post in their progress will be secured.
Gareth Bale of Wales and Matt Doherty of Republic of Ireland
Image credit: Getty Images
MAN OF THE MATCH
David Brooks (Wales): Brooks registered his second international goal tonight, and it could be a crucial one for Wales. He was a ball of energy all night for his team, particularly in the final half an hour when he was moved into an attacking midfield position behind the front three.
Wales: Ward 6; Mepham 6, Rodon 7, Ampadu 6; Neco Williams 7, Morrell 6, Norrington-Davies 7, Davies 6; James 7, Bale 6, Brooks 8. Subs: Moore 5, Roberts 6
Ireland: Randolph 6; Doherty 6, Kevin Long 6, Duffy 7, O’Shea 6; Brady 6, Hendrick 5, Molumby 6; Morgan 6, Idah 6, McClean 7. Subs: O’Dowda 6, Hourihane 6, Byrne 6, Knight 5, Collins 6
24’ CLOSE! Bale wallops his shot at goal and it screams through the Cardiff sky, dipping just a bit too late and brushing the back of the crossbar on its way over. Randolph had it covered, but that was a great hit.
30’ GOOD SAVE! Brady sand wedges a ball over the Welsh defence and into the area, where McClean has beaten the offside trap. McClean brings it down, and from a tight angle on the right of the area he drills a low shot at goal that Ward saves with his right foot.
67’ GOAL! Wales 1-0 Ireland (Brooks). The system change works! James gets away down the right and crosses into the area. Duffy flicks it off the head of Moore, but Bale rises at the back post to nod the stray ball across the six-yard box where Brooks arrives late to head the ball into an empty net. Wales lead!
78’ GREAT SAVE! After an Irish free kick is cleared, Wales are suddenly two on two on the break. JAmes releases Brooks, who hares through all the way to the penalty area. Brooks shoots, and a superb reflex save from Randolph tips the ball over the bar!
90+1’ CHANCE! Roberts gets away down the right for Wales and hooks a lovely pass square across the box to Moore. He shoots first time and low, but Randolph saves with his legs.
90+4’ RED CARD! Tyler Roberts intercepts a ball in the centre circle and suddenly has all of Cardiff to run into. Hendrick races across but is always second favourite and wipes out Roberts as he goes through on goal. Obviously, he's then sent off.
- The Republic of Ireland have failed to score in their last six international matches.