Wales 0-0 Poland AET (4-5 on pens): Dan James misses crucial kick as Rob Page’s side miss out on Euro 2024

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Wales were left heartbroken as their hopes of qualification for Euro 2024 were crushed by a 5-4 penalty shoot-out defeat to Poland in Cardiff on Tuesday night.

Rob Page’s side had thumped Finland 4-1 in their qualifying play-off semi-final last Thursday and battled admirably at the Cardiff City Stadium, limiting Robert Lewandowski and Co to just one shot on target through the initial 90 minutes and extra-time and having an effort of their own ruled out by VAR.

They were reduced to 10 men seconds before the game’s finale, when Chris Mepham was shown a second yellow card for a lunge on Lewandowski.

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Dan James reacts after seeing his penalty saved by Wojciech Szczesny

After four perfect penalties from each side, Krzysztof Piatek scored Poland’s fifth, which left Leeds forward James with the responsibility of scoring to take the shoot-out to sudden death.

But former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny guessed correctly and dived to keep out James’ effort, leaving the hordes of Welsh fans inside the stadium shellshocked after their side missed out on a third consecutive European Championship campaign.

Poland will face the Netherlands, Austria and France in Group D in this summer’s tournament in Germany, with their opener against the Dutch in Hamburg at 3pm on Sunday June 16.

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A deflated Robert Earnshaw reflects on an intense game after Wales lost on penalties to Poland, ensuring they missed out on qualification for Euro 2024.

Wales player ratings

Wales: Ward (6), Mepham (7), Rodon (7), Davies (7), Roberts (6), J James (6), Ampadu (7), Williams (6), Wilson (6), Johnson (6), Moore (7).

Subs: D James (5), Brooks (5), Broadhead (n/a)

How Wales were cruelly denied another major tournament appearance

The sheer intensity of the Welsh players’ and fans’ rendition of the anthem ‘Land of My Fathers’ in the moments before kick-off showed they were ready for battle. Following the emphatic fashion in which they reached the final, they had nothing to fear.

Like many play-off finals at domestic or international level, as expected chances came at a premium and neither team managed a shot on target in a closely-fought first half. Mistakes in games where the stakes are as high as this can ill be afforded.

Ben Davies was denied an opener for Wales after a rapid VAR review
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Ben Davies was denied an opener for Wales after a rapid VAR review

Right on the stroke of half-time, though, Wales had the ball in the net. Moore’s flick on a throw found Davies, who buried a header past Szczesny. Jubilant celebrations were quickly halted by an offside flag and an equally speedy VAR review, which upheld the decision.

To an extent, it seemed as though that chance gave the hosts belief and a slight mental advantage, given the way they came out in the second half. And, had it not been for a stunning diving save from Szczesny to keep out Moore’s looping header, they would have been in front.

In truth, neither side ever really then looked like forcing the winner that would have prevented extra-time. Stifled by the brilliant Wales defence, not even the irrepressible Lewandowski could find a way through.

Wojciech Szczesny celebrates after saving Dan James' penalty to seal Poland's qualification for Euro 2024
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Szczesny celebrates after saving James’ penalty to seal Poland’s place at Euro 2024

Moore felt he had a case for a penalty deep into stoppage-time, gesturing to Daniele Orsato that he had been pushed by Arsenal’s Jakub Kiwior, but the referee did not agree, and his theatrical fall probably did not help his cause.

Jakub Piotrowski had the best chance of the first half of extra-time, missing the top-right corner by a lick of paint after a swift break from the Poles, with Moore passing up another chance when he invited Kiwior to block his shot after dallying for too long.

Team news

  • Rob Page made one change to the Wales team who beat Finland 4-1 last week, with Kieffer Moore in from the start, with David Brooks, who scored the opener in that game dropped to the bench.
  • Aaron Ramsey remained on the bench after his injury doubts, with Ethan Ampadu and Jordan James continuing in midfield.
  • Meanwhile, Poland head coach Michal Probierz named the same starting 11 that started the 5-1 semi-final win over Estonia.
  • Ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny started, as did current Gunner Jakub Kiwior, Southampton’s Jan Bednarek and the nation’s record goalscorer Robert Lewandowski.

In the final moments of extra-time, Mepham’s second booking for a late tackle on Lewandowski left Wales with just 10 options heading into the shoot-out.

Wales won the toss and opted for the penalties to be taken in front of the Red Wall. Davies, Moore, Wilson and Neco Williams all found the net, but James could not.

Page: There are good times ahead for this Wales squad

Wales manager Rob Page to S4C:

“It’s a cruel game. That’s what I’ve said to the players. One kick away from qualifying and it hurts.

“We were the better team. First half, my message was: we were the better team and I said we will go on to win this game. Brooksy came on, We had to take him off. He hadn’t trained for two days with illness and we needed fresh legs.

“I said to the group in there, look at how far we have come and we’ve not qualified for a major tournament. There’s something good happening with this group. Ben (Davies) said it on the pitch, I said it to the group. Credit to DJ, the courage to take that kick. I am so proud of that group.

“The nation should be proud of the players. They’ve put a shift and some to try and get us there. We will be better and stronger having gone through this horrible, horrible experience.

“I’ve said to the group: we are going somewhere, this group is going somewhere. They are so disappointed in there, we were hungry for it. We were so close, one kick from qualifying. So there’s a lot more to come. A lot of good times ahead.”

What’s next for Wales?

Having missed out on a place at Euro 2024, Wales face only one more game between now and September, in the shape of a trip to Slovakia on June 9.

They then face Turkey on September 6 and Montenegro on September 9, when the Nations League gets under way.

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