The Welsh national football team are now just one match away from booking their place at the World Cup in Qatar later this year after defeating Austria in a playoff semi-final. That 2-1 win for Ryan Giggs and Rob Page’s side means they will now play either Scotland or Ukraine in the final in Cardiff later that year.
The playoffs were expected to be completed at the weekend, with the battling Welsh scheduled to play the Scots or Ukrainians in a shootout to make it to Qatar on Tuesday, 29 March. Still, the other side of the draw has been thrown into doubt by the ongoing war in Ukraine. Several of the Ukraine team have abandoned their footballing duties to take up arms and help defend their nation against the Russian invasion, causing FIFA to push the game with Scotland back a few months. In the meantime, Wales must wait.
Bookies keep fans busy
A nation of football lovers held their breath during that gripping win over Austria and are now forced to play the waiting game. As the war in Ukraine rumbles on with no sign of peace on the horizon, more doubt is cast over playoff Path B. Will Wales host their neighbours from Scotland in the final at the Cardiff City Stadium, or will Ukraine be the visitors? Perhaps the Scots will eventually be given a bye into the final. That remains to be seen, but all followers of Welsh football can do is sit and wait.
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Dragons see off Austria
Wales fired a warning shot to Scotland and Ukraine when digging deep to see off a determined Austrian side in Cardiff on Thursday. It was a match they were expected to win, given the home advantage handed to them by the draw, but they were pushed hard by their opponents and made to work every step of the way by an Austrian side that didn’t want to lose their own World Cup dream. Unfortunately for them, there was room for only one team in the final, and it was Wales who made it through thanks to a 2-1 scoreline.
Gareth Bale was in fine form in that match, and he scored two crucial goals to send his team into a 2-0 lead by 51 minutes before Austria replied with a strike from Marcel Sabitzer. That response set up a nervy end to the game, but Wales held firm, defending their lead despite a few nervy moments. That win booked Wales a place in the final and brought back memories of the nation reaching the World Cup in 1958. They managed that through the playoffs and look in great shape to repeat the feat more than six decades later.
Scots suffer two draws
Potential playoff final opponents, Scotland had to make do with playing two friendly matches in the absence of their own World Cup playoff semi-final at Hampden. Steve Clarke’s men hosted Poland at Hampden and were unlucky to end level after conceding a penalty in stoppage-time to finish 1-1. On Tuesday, the Tartan Army went to Vienna to play Austria, and that match ended in a draw also, with the final scoreboard reading 2-2. That was despite Scotland racing into a 2-0 lead and looking good value for a memorable away win. The Austrians timed their comeback to perfection, scoring late on to snatch a draw.