Wales’ relegation from League A was confirmed as Rob Page’s side suffered a 1-0 defeat to Poland at the Cardiff City Stadium to finish bottom of Group A4 in the Nations League.
The Red Dragons knew that only a win would do for them prior to the match if they wanted to avoid dropping down to League B, with Poland starting the day sitting three points above them in the group standings.
The first period was characterised by strong challenges flying in from both sides and some defensive lapses by Wales, one of which almost cost them a goal. Wayne Hennessey almost let the ball cross his line after a poor touch from a back pass, but the Welsh goalkeeper recovered in the nick of time to save himself from embarrassment.
Czesław Michniewicz’s Poland side then got themselves a vital goal to take the lead in the 57th minute, as Karol Swiderski capped off a brilliant team move to finish Robert Lewandowski’s deft flick into his path beyond Hennessey.
Wales manager Page responded by making some attacking substitutions, but the Red Dragons were unable to find the equaliser they needed, despite going close on a couple of occasions with Gareth Bale striking the bar in stoppage-time.
The final whistle signalled that their relegation to League B was made official and Wales finished their Nations League campaign without a win from their six group matches.
TALKING POINT – WALES IN POOR FORM AHEAD OF WORLD CUP
Tonight’s fixture was Wales’ last preparation match before the upcoming World Cup, and it has not ended positively for Rob Page’s side, who have now won just one of their last eight international matches (D2, L5).
There were some sparks of life within the team, as both Dan James and Brennan Johnson looked lively on either wing, but there will be concern over captain and star man Gareth Bale, who currently looks to be off the pace. His lack of sharpness may be down to the fact he has only been utilised sporadically for his club, Los Angeles FC in the MLS.
Although key players were missing for the Red Dragons tonight through injury and suspension, another concern that Page may need to address is the composure of the back line on the ball. Lapses of concentration throughout the game almost saw Wales get punished, and that may well end up happening against better opposition.
For all the understandable disappointment that this relegation will bring, Wales put in credible performances during this Nations League campaign against both Belgium and the Netherlands, who are top sides. Ultimately though, the team have not been able to register a win, and that has cost them.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – WOJCIECH SZCZESNY
The Polish goalkeeper produced a display of the highest quality in Cardiff tonight between the posts, as he made some very important saves to ensure that his country kept a clean sheet.
In total, the 32-year-old made a total of three critical saves, in addition to two parried stops. The pick of the bunch was in the first half, as he made a quick-fire double save to deny Dan James at his near post.
Wales: Hennessey 6, Cabango 6, Rodon 6, Norrington-Davies 5, Roberts 6, Morrell 6, Levitt 6, Williams 6, Johnson 7, James 7, Bale 6. Subs: Colwill 6, Thomas 7, Moore 5.
Poland: Szczesny 8, Kiwior 7, Glik 7, Bednarek 7, Zalewski 7, Zielinski 7, Krychowiak 7, Zurkowski 6, Berezynski 7, Swiderski 7, Lewandowski 7. Subs: Piatek 6, Szymanski 6, Gumny 6.
35’ – DOUBLE SAVE! – Szczesny is called into action for the first time as Wales have their best chance of the game. The home side break at pace down the left as James bears down on goal as Wales have a 2 v 1 situation, with Johnson also making a supporting run. James carries the ball a good 30-yards before going for the shot towards the near corner, but Szczesny gets down well to parry it. The rebound drops back to James for the second time, but his second effort is also well saved by the Polish stopper.
38’ – ALMOST A HOWLER – Hennessey gets away with it there! The goalkeeper gets the ball from a routine back pass, but his poor first touch almost takes it over the line, but he recovers just in time to keep the ball out!
57’ – GOAL! (Karol Swiderski) – Stunning from the visitors! Poland take the lead. Zalewski’s cross from the left is beautifully flicked behind first-time into the path of Swiderski by Lewandowski in the area, before the latter finishes well beyond Hennessey to round off a clinical move! Wales now have it all to do.
60’ – BIG SAVE – Brennan Johnson once again is causing problems down that right-hand side! He picks up the ball in the channel, before cutting inside onto his left foot inside the 18-yard box, but his low shot towards the far corner is well saved by Szczesny, who reaches to tip it behind for a corner!
90′ – OFF THE BAR! – Wales come so close to finding an equaliser! Thomas picks out a brilliant cross from the right wing, which Bale gets his head on, but his effort crashes against the top of the bar and comes back out!