Penalty heartache marks end of an era for Wales


Wales endured penalty heartache at the Cardiff City Stadium as a single miss from the spot from Dan James ended their hopes of reaching the Euros in Germany this Summer.

Wales had turned in a magnificent performance to ease to a 4-1 victory over Finland in the semi-final play-off but Poland tonight, led by the legendary Robert Lewandowski, would prove tougher opponents.

Wales made one significant change from last time out, with Kieffer Moore of Ipswich Town being introduced to lead the line ahead of David Brooks. Aaron Ramsey again started on the bench. Connor Roberts took the field at wing-back, complete with that lucky moustache!

Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau was roared out by the home fans. Bright red flares lit up the away section. One way or another, this would be quite a night.

The visitors kept it cagey during the opening exchanges. Wales looking to hit Moore at every opportunity. Italian referee Daniele Orsato had already blown up for a foul against the tall striker with barely two minutes on the clock.

Wales had a scare on 12 minutes as a ball whipped into the box narrowly eluded Karol Świderski in front of Danny Ward’s goal. The game began to open as a combination of Kieffer Moore and Ben Davies sent an untidy header over the Polish bar after Jordan James had forced a corner. Despite close man handling from the Poles, Moore was a threat from set pieces.

This was an even contest between two sides with so much to play for. Harry Wilson gave the crowd hope as he danced into what seemed like acres of space in the box on 27 minutes. Poland pressed ahead but the Welsh stood firm. Moore remained a handful. The pace of Brennan Johnson also posed a threat.

The Red Wall sensed that more was needed, belting out the anthem as the first half neared its conclusion. The Welsh responded with a series of “nearly” balls that almost led to an opening.

The first half ended in drama as a close-range header into the Polish net from skipper Ben Davies was ruled out in what was a very close decision. Technology suggested that the decision was correct.

Moore, who seemed to be at the heart of everything, brought a fine second half save from Wojciech Szczęsny. Jakub Piotrowski picked up a yellow card following a tussle with the former Cardiff City star, who was head and shoulders above his opponents.

With the Poles no strangers to the dark arts of the game, it would be critical that Wales kept their discipline on such a night. Mr Orasto seemed more than willing to accommodate the visitors’ gamesmanship.

Davies dispossessed Lewandowski with a tackle reminiscent of Bobby Moore on Pele. It was cheered as loudly as any goal. A header from Moore almost crossed the line.

But the visitors were making more of the running now. Dan James joined proceedings to replace Johnson on 70 minutes. The Leeds United star had been in fine form this season. That form was needed now.

The game became untidier now, as a string of fouls epitomised the tension. The Red Wall sang the anthem for the third time. It remained 0-0 at 80 minutes.

Wilson responded with a surging run into the box but the visitors were giving nothing way. Wales, Wales, roared the Welsh section of the 31,876 crowd. Polska, Polska cried the visitors.

David Brooks replaced Roberts as Robert Page chased a historic late win. His dayglow green boots carried the hopes of a nation.

Lewandowski fired narrowly past Ward with the last kick of 90 minutes. Wales tried hard to win it but too many passes were going astray. Moore was booked, though hard to see why.

Extra time.

Despite the intensity of performance, Wales would need to create more clear cut chances if they were to overcome their stubborn visitors. Pabel Dawidowicz felled Wilson with a blatant body check to give Wilson a chance of glory from the resultant free kick, but the Fulham man could not penetrate the Polish defence. It felt like a big moment.

Moore continued to come in for rough treatment from the belligerent Poles. Piotrowski curled a shot inches wide after Lewandowski had led a counterattack. Nerves jangled. Wales simply could not engineer a clean strike at goal, despite the ongoing efforts of Moore. At the other end, Ward had not put a foot wrong.

We entered the last 15 minutes amid almost unbearable tension. The anthem. Again. The Red Wall were certainly giving it their all as the Poles flashed a header wide. Calon Lan now from the terraces.

Poland played the ball about with ominous composure as Brooks left the pitch to be replaced by Nathan Broadhead of Ipswich Town.  The battle of the terrace choirs continued deep into the night, as Wales fought hard to stay in the game. Penalties might come as a relief. Yet again we heard the anthem, more in hope than true faith perhaps.

Chris Mepham was shown a red card for a last minute tackle as Poland pressed. A second yellow.

It came to nothing.


This would take some describing.

An amazing rendition of the anthem preceded the drama, the opening chords played over the stadium’s PA before the crowd took over. Danny, Danny Ward yelled the crowd. Lewandowski sent him the wrong way. Ben Davies equalised.

The Poles go two up but Moore equalised. In off the bar, just to add to the drama.

Przemysław Frankowski blasted home only for Wilson to make it 3-3. Who would blink first?

The Poles score again. Neco Williams does the same. 4-4.

We are almost at sudden death now, as Dan James HAS to score.

But he doesn’t.

His shot is saved by Szczęsny with some comfort. Polish celebrations erupted across the field and in the stands. Wales would not be travelling to Germany. The third trip to the Euros was cancelled in the cruellest of manners.

A spot kick had been the difference between two evenly matched sides. Ward, Hennesey, Ramsey and the rest would not be going to Germany. The Red Wall would be staying at home.

History would have to wait.




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