Wales’ fight for UEFA Nations League promotion will go down to the final matchday after edging past the Republic of Ireland 1-0 on Sunday.
The only goal of the game came from David Brooks as he nodded in Gareth Bale’s knockdown in the second-half, with Jeff Hendrick then being awarded a late red card, as the hosts secured a hard-fought victory.
Here are five things we learned in Cardiff:
Bale back on the international stage
It’s no coincidence that with Gareth Bale, Wales are a much better side. The wideman has not been selected for any of the last four international fixtures, Ryan Giggs’ side only winning one of those and scoring a solitary goal.
Having rediscovered form and fitness back in North London, he was selected from the start and finished the game, showing his class and having a massive influence on his side’s performance. The hosts looked much more threatening in attack, with Bale even playing a key role in the opener with a clever header down for Brooks.
Pace proves too much for visitors
It wasn’t just Bale who contributed to the win however, it was the whole Wales attack. The starting trio of Bale, Brooks and Daniel James used their great pace throughout the evening, again combining for the winning goal. There were numerous occasions where Wales threatened on the counter-attack, with that aforementioned three being at the forefront.
Even later on in the game, Tyler Roberts climbed off the bench and contributed as it was his quick reactions and pace that saw Hendrick produce a rash, last-man challenge and earn himself a straight red card.
Blunt Ireland’s wait for a Nations League win goes on
Since UEFA introduced the Nations League to the international calendar, Ireland have not particularly enjoyed taking part. In nine matches in the competition, they are actually yet to earn a victory, again failing to progress out of their group.
As a matter of fact, Stephen Kenny’s troops have failed to find the net in seven of those games, indicating the huge problem they have in the UEFA Nations League. If they wish to challenge in the competition in the future, or indeed qualify for major tournaments, they will surely have to throw a bit more caution to the wind in search of goals.
Dragons strong at the back
Whilst the Republic of Ireland will be disappointed having not found the back of the net once again, they were actually coming up against one of the most stubborn defences in international football at the current time.
With another shutout, Wales have now earned six clean sheets in their last seven games in all competitions – an extremely impressive feat. As they go up against the top scorers in the group, Finland, on Wednesday, they will hope to again harness that defensive solidarity once again.
Wales stepping up?
In a complete contrast to the Republic of Ireland, Wales are in tremendous form in the UEFA Nations League having not lost a game thus far this year and look potentially the favourites to earn promotion.
As a result of Finland’s win against Bulgaria in Sofia, Wales are actually one point clear at the top of the group and are available at a price of 20/23 with Betfair to beat their nearest rivals on Wednesday evening and indeed earn promotion.
Wales: Ward (7); Davies (7), Rodon (7), Mepham (7), Williams (6), Norrington-Davies (6) (Moore (6), 62′), Morrell (6), Ampadu (6); Bale (7), Brooks (8) (Roberts (N/A), 86′), James (7).
Republic of Ireland: Randolph (7); O’Shea (6), Long (5), Duffy (6), Doherty (6); Hendrick (5), Brady (6) (Byrne (N/A), 82′), Molumby (5) (Hourihane (N/A), 76′), McClean (5), Horgan (6) (Knight (5), 59′), Idah (6) (Collins (5), 75′).
Goals: Brooks (66′)
Referee: Petr Ardeleanu
Yellow Cards: Morrell (38′), Molumby (38′) Davies (49′), Moore (65′), Hendrick (81′)
Red Cards: Hendrick (90+4′)