Ireland beat wales today 1-0 through a James McClean goal in the 57th minute. The Irish team went to Cardiff today knowing that only a win would give them a chance to make the play-offs. Wales would have secured second place with either a draw or a win, with Serbia almost certainly having the first spot locked down. So everyone was up for this final group game to decide who still had a shot of making World Cup 2018.
The game got off to a good start for the Welsh having the ball in the Irish half for the majority of the first 25 mins, but without creating any clear cut chances or challenging the Irish keeper too much. After about 25 minutes though the Irish began to work their way into the game, getting the majority of their success from wide areas. One major shift in the game was when Joe Allen came off through head injury. Prior to that I thought he was the best player on the pitch and his movement in midfield always left him or another Welsh midfielder free. He ran the game before coming off and that may have been what helped the Irish back into the match. The half ended with the game getting very open and chances at both ends to end the half, which gave the Irish confidence coming back out to start the second half. They began lively and capitalized on an Ashley Williams miss-pass to take the 1-0 lead. Williams tried to make a pass in the back but it was pounced on by Jeff Hendrick who chased the ball down barely controlling it before it went out of play. He whipped a ball in which made its way to James McClean who side footed it past everyone into the back of the net. That was all Ireland needed. One goal. Now it was no mystery what the game plan would be for the rest of the match; sit back and defend what they have. That’s exactly what they did, riding out Welsh pressure for the entirety of the second half. David Myler was a stand out performer, covering acres and getting in the way of any attack he could. Randolph came up with some vital saves in the high pressure environment and the center back pairing of Duff and Clark held firm till the end. Last 5 minutes was just a flurry of long balls into the Irish box and the defenders for Ireland were winning every ball as if their life depended on it. They were able to hold on till the end and it wasn’t pretty, but Ireland followed their game plan to perfection and got exactly what they set out for.
A devastating result for Wales, who nearly made their first World Cup since 1958. But for Ireland their hope is still alive. I’m sure the playoff leg in Dublin will provide amazing scenes, and if they do qualify, you can bet there won’t be a dry or a sober soul in Ireland.