The waiting game is over as Wales and Ukraine aim to defy history

By Sports Desk June 04, 2022 590

For Wales, the wait is nearly over.

After a delay of more than two months owing to the horrific events that have unfolded in Ukraine, Wales finally get a shot at ending their long wait for a place at the World Cup.

With their opponents now known following Ukraine's impressive victory against Scotland in midweek, the Dragons' date with destiny finally arrives in Cardiff this Sunday.

And after a wait of some six-and-a-half decades since last appearing at the biggest football tournament of them all, the excitement could not be any higher.

If Wales are to jump the final hurdle and make it to Qatar 2022, though, they must do something no side has achieved since Croatia in October 2017 – beat Ukraine in a qualifier.

Ukraine have proved their resolve in more ways than one and now, spurred on by most of the world, Oleksandr Petrakov's battlers are potentially 90 minutes from the World Cup.

Stats Perform looks at how both sides shape up ahead of the showdown at Cardiff City Stadium.


QUALIFYING RECORDS

While Wales have enjoyed runs to the semi-finals and last 16 of the past two European Championships, not since 1958 have they competed on the grandest stage of them all.

Should they reach Qatar 2022, that gap of 64 years would surpass the record jointly held by Egypt and Norway of 56 years between tournament participations.

To put into context just how long ago Wales' only previous World Cup outing was, Brazil great Pele scored the only goal against them in that year's quarter-final.

At 17 years and 239 days, he still holds the record of being the tournament's youngest-ever goalscorer.

 

Ukraine have themselves competed at the World Cup just once, albeit having only had six previous attempts at qualifying as an independent nation.

The Eastern European country reached the quarter-finals in Germany 16 years ago, where they were beaten 3-0 by eventual winners Italy.

Like opponents Wales, they have twice qualified for the European Championship, as well as being given direct entry to the tournament as joint-hosts with Poland in 2012.

 

PREVIOUS MEETINGS

The two teams' pedigree is pretty similar, then, as is their record against one another down the years.

Only three times have they previously met, with two of those finishing all square in World Cup 2002 qualifying, and Ukraine winning the other 1-0 in a pre-Euro 2016 friendly.

Incidentally, current Wales boss Rob Page played the full 90 minutes in Ukraine's only previous outing on Welsh soil, with that contest ending in a 1-1 draw 20 years ago.

 

PLAY-OFF PEDRIGREE

Wales' record when it comes down to crunch fixtures down the years has been pretty impressive, having won all three of their previous World Cup qualifying play-off games.

The Dragons beat Israel over both legs in qualifying for the 1958 edition and saw off Austria 2-1 in March to set up their clash with Ukraine, who beat Scotland in the other semi.

History is not exactly on Ukraine's side in that regard, though, as they have failed to reach the tournament in each of their previous four play-offs – in 1997, 2001, 2009 and 2013.

 

If it is to be fourth time lucky, the Blue and Yellow will have to breach Wales' Cardiff City Stadium fortress, where Page's side are unbeaten in 17 matches since November 2018.

But Ukraine certainly know how to grind out results on their travels, having won each of their past three away competitive matches, including that 3-1 win in Glasgow this week.

In fact, Petrakov's side have gone unbeaten home and away throughout Qatar qualifying, as was the case en route to reaching Euro 2020.

That run of 18 games without losing in qualifying is a record only Belgium can match among European nations.

 

KEY MEN

When it comes down to the individual battles, at full strength there is very little between two nations separated by just nine places in the latest FIFA rankings.

For Wales, Bale undoubtedly remains the focal point of the side in what could reportedly be his final ever game in professional football should his side taste defeat.

The free agent has only played six games in qualifying, totalling 488 minutes, yet only five European players have been involved in more than his eight goals.

With those five goals and three assists, Bale is averaging a goal or assist every 61 minutes for his country on the road to Qatar.

 

There is not one standout star in the Ukrainian ranks, as such, but plenty of focus will be on Roman Yaremchuk, who was on the scoresheet at Hampden Park.

The Benfica attacker is Ukraine's top scorer this qualifying campaign with four goals, the past three of those coming in away matches.

This run to the qualifying play-off final has very much been built on unity, though, which will again be on show in the Welsh capital on Sunday.

Yet whether it is the chance to put history right, make a nation of people proud or anything in between, the end goal for Wales and Ukraine is ultimately the same.

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Last modified on Saturday, 04 June 2022 12:13
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