Rob Page accepts that Wales’ Euro 2024 destiny might lie in the play-offs following their damaging draw with Armenia.
Wales needed a Nair Tiknizyan own goal on the stroke of half-time to give them a 1-1 draw in Yerevan, when Armenia were the most dangerous side for large parts of a low-quality contest.
Croatia are now favourites to take the second automatic qualifying spot behind Turkey, who travel to Cardiff for Wales’ last group fixture on Tuesday safe in the knowledge they will be playing in the finals in Germany next summer.
Having dropped points to remove automatic qualification from their own hands, manager Page said: “There’s a disappointed group in there, but we’ve got to pick ourselves up and finish on a high on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately it’s now out of our control. With a win, we’d all have been buzzing and looking forward to the game on Tuesday, and a win would have seen us qualify.
“It’s not materialised as we’d like, but that’s life and we have to get on with it.
“It’s about building momentum and, if it’s a play-off in March, it’s a play-off in March.
“If results go for us, we’ve still got an opportunity to qualify (automatically).
“We can only control what we can do, get the players in the right frame of mind, mentally and physically ready for Tuesday.”
Wales were beaten 4-2 by Armenia – ranked 95 in the world and 67 places below them – at the Cardiff City Stadium in June, and Page’s side were shaken again within five minutes of the Yerevan return.
Lucas Zelarayan, who scored twice in Cardiff, worked space on the edge of the area after Wales failed to clear a corner and slotted the ball into the corner of Danny Ward’s net.
Page said: “We got off to the worst possible start, we knew they were going to come out the traps fast. I’m disappointed with that.
“I thought we grew in the first half and scored at the perfect time.
“But the break came at a bad time for us because I thought we were growing in momentum.
“We got into some OK positions. Whether it was the final pass or the final ball, that final detail wasn’t quite right for whatever reason.
“We threw everything at it and both teams were going for the win.
“You could see by the changes we made. We took a wing back-off and put a winger on to try and get as many forward players on the pitch as we could.”
Wales had beaten World Cup semi-finalists Croatia last month to put them in control of the race for a top-two place.
But on a poor pitch that neither team were able to master, Wales did not remotely come close hitting the heights of that performance.
Reflecting on the contrasting two displays, Page said: “It’s not to say there were a lot of players who had off-days, but you do have that in transitions, you have inconsistencies.
“I’m not going to fault the players for their effort. Their effort, to a man, was commendable. They gave everything, like they always do.
“The pitch was heavy, like nothing we’ve seen back home, but it was the same for both sides.
“We’ll get them recovered, have a recovery session on Sunday and go through with the medical team who we’ve got available for Tuesday.
“We need to finish the campaign on a high. It’s important to have some momentum if there is a play-off in March.”