Ireland break Wales hearts to reach World Cup play-offs as Iceland make history
James McClean’s strike earns 1-0 win in Cardiff with Serbia ending eight-year major finals drought
The Republic of Ireland secured a World Cup play-off spot at Wales’ expense after James McClean’s crisp second-half strike earned his side a 1-0 victory in Cardiff on Monday.
The West Bromwich Albion winger’s goal moved Ireland above Wales into second place in group D below Serbia, meaning Martin O’Neill’s men will be one of the eight teams in the European play-off draw on October 17.
“The performance of the players was absolutely fantastic,” said Ireland manager O’Neill.
“We had to withstand a lot of pressure, which you would expect. But we had to win tonight in Cardiff and we’ve done exactly that.
“James scores a great goal for us and then we have to withstand more pressure. Some great, great performances all around. And so we go to the play-offs.”
While Ireland remain on course for a first World Cup finals appearance since 2002, surprise Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales saw their dream of a first appearance at the tournament since 1958 turn to dust.
Bereft of Real Madrid star Gareth Bale, and robbed of Joe Allen by a suspected concussion in the first half, Wales fell to their first defeat in the group and their first loss in a competitive home game in over four years.
The tense game at Cardiff City Stadium stands to be Chris Coleman’s last as Wales manager in a competitive fixture, the architect of last year’s Euro heroics having pledged to stand down after the current World Cup cycle.
“We just came up a bit short tonight,” Coleman said. “Our imagination, offensively, we didn’t quite have enough.
“I can’t say right now about my future because I’m not thinking about it. The dressing room’s full of devastated players and staff.
“The whole nation will be mourning because that elusive World Cup has passed us by again.”
Serbia finished top of group D with a 1-0 win over Georgia, Aleksandar Prijovic scoring after coming on as a second-half substitute to end an eight-year major finals absence.
Elsewhere, Iceland qualified for the World Cup for the first time after beating Kosovo 2-0 on Monday.
Everton midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson and Johann Gudmundsson scored in Reykjavik as Iceland, with a population of just 330,000, became the smallest country to advance to the World Cup finals.
It is the tiny northern European island nation’s second successive appearance at a major tournament after their shock win over England in a surprise run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.
Iceland needed all three points to secure top spot in European qualifying Group I as Croatia, who sacked coach Ante Cacic last week, downed Ukraine 2-0 in Kiev in the fight to claim second place.
Asier Illarramendi netted the only goal in Jerusalem as Spain completed their successful qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win over Israel, while Antonio Candreva grabbed a second-half winner for Italy in a 1-0 victory away to Albania in group G.
Italy will be the top seeds for the November play-offs, the draw for which is made in Zurich on October 17.