Williams' Wales end 64-year wait to qualify for World Cup

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Williams' Wales end 64-year wait to qualify for World Cup
Williams' Wales end 64-year wait to qualify for World Cup

SWINDON Town attacker Jonny Williams watched on as a substitute as Wales ended their 64-year wait to play at a World Cup by beating Ukraine 1-0 in a pulsating play-off final in Cardiff on Sunday.

After scoring against Poland in the Nations League on Thursday, Williams was not required as Gareth Bale's first-half free-kick was turned into his own net by Andriy Yarmolenko to send Wales through.

And, just like at Euro 2016 in France, Wales will find themselves in the same group as England, with Iran and the United States for company.

The Qatar World Cup - which starts on November 21 for Wales - will take Williams away from Town for at least a fortnight.

Rob Page's men open up with a game against the USA before taking on Iran on November 25 and then England on November 29.

Williams, who has another year on his Town deal, will have almost four months of League Two football under his belt before potentially jetting off to Qatar and becoming the fourth Swindon player to go to a World Cup.

The late Alan McLoughlin was the first Swindon player to go to a World Cup in 1990 with the Republic of Ireland before Jan Åge Fjørtoft followed suit in 1994 with Norway.

Massimo Luongo travelled with the Australia squad to the 2014 World Cup and featured on the bench for all three of the Socceroos' matches in Brazil.

Williams and Wales' afternoon threatened to unravel early on once Ukraine put the ball in the net after two minutes, but Oleksandr Zinchenko had taken the free-kick too quickly for the taste of Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz.

Wayne Hennessey saved the second attempt from Ruslan Malinovskyi, but the goalkeeper was the busiest man on the pitch as Ukraine almost opened up Wales at will.

The Burnley goalkeeper kept out efforts from Viktor Tsygankov and Roman Yaremchuk, and had to use every bit of his 6ft 6in frame to push another deflected effort to safety.

Zinchenko and Tsygankov forced further stops from Hennessey, and it looked a matter of time before Ukraine would score the goal that their supremacy deserved.

But Wales, whose best attempt saw Neco Williams drag wide from just outside the box, took the lead after Daniel James had been fouled 25 yards out.

Bale lined up the free-kick and the intervening head of Yarmolenko saw the ball flash past Georgiy Bushchan in the visitors’ goal.

Ukraine responded as Zinchenko’s powerful shot was tipped around a post, and Wales were relieved to escape a VAR review when Yarmolenko was caught by Allen.

Bushchan denied James on the stroke of half-time, and Wales should have given themselves breathing space four minutes after the break.

Williams sent James free and he found Moore down the left. Moore played an inviting ball into the path of Aaron Ramsey, who with the goal at his mercy missed the target.

The temperature was rising and Wales boss Robert Page was booked for dissent after James went to ground but no foul was given.

Hennessey had been afforded a quieter start to the second half, but produced a wonderful stop to deny Tsygankov with his legs before Yaremchuk stabbed the rebound wide.

Wales sent on Brennan Johnson and the Nottingham Forest youngster struck the post with his first touch.

But Wales were indebted to Hennessey again when he somehow clawed away Artem Dovbyk’s header.

Bale almost sealed victory before making way in the final 10 minutes, but his dream of adding a World Cup appearance to his glittering CV finally came true regardless.

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