Rob Page draws on play-off experience after Wales miss out on Euro qualification

By Sports Desk November 21, 2023

Rob Page insists Wales can reach Euro 2024 by drawing on their successful World Cup play-off history.

Wales were consigned to the Euro play-offs in March after a controversial 1-1 draw with Turkey in Cardiff.

Neco Williams’ early strike was cancelled out by Yusuf Yazici’s second-half penalty – with Page suggesting Wales would have won with another referee – as the Dragons fell short in their bid to overtake Croatia for the second automatic qualifying place behind group winners Turkey.

Croatia secured automatic qualification with a 1-0 home victory over Armenia, leaving Wales in the play-offs with a home semi-final against either Finland, Iceland or Ukraine. Poland and Estonia will contest the other semi-final.

The identity of Wales’ opponents will be determined by a draw on Thursday – and boss Page hopes play-off history will repeat itself as Austria and Ukraine were beaten in Cardiff en route to reaching the 2022 World Cup.

“We will throw everything into the preparation for the play-offs now,” said Page, who will attend the draw at Nyon in Switzerland.

“I’m pleased it’s a home draw. What our supporters do is incredible and this place is a fortress. We never disappoint and the crowd never disappoints – Croatia, Turkey, the Austria and Ukraine games.

“The lads who were in the play-offs have had those experiences.

“They managed the emotions of the Ukraine game for obvious reasons and that will stand them in good stead for these games.

“We’ve had some big nights here and we go into the play-offs with confidence.”

Wales had three penalty appeals turned down in a nine-minute spell midway through the first half.

Harry Wilson went down in a tangle of legs with with Abdulkerim Bardakci before Brennan Johnson was floored by a sliding Samet Akaydin tackle when the defender did not make contact with the ball.

Akaydin then flattened Johnson from behind in a crowded goalmouth, but neither Slovenian referee Matej Jug nor VAR came to the conclusion it was a penalty.

To add insult to injury, Jug decided Ben Davies had pushed Kenan Yildiz over and awarded a dubious 70th-minute penalty.

Asked if Wales would have won with another referee, Page replied: “I have to be careful what I say. But I believe so, if I’m being completely honest.

“It’s a stonewall penalty, one of the most obvious penalties I’ve seen, against Brennan. The defender’s got the wrong side of him, he runs into him and takes him out.

“Then we’ve conceded the softest penalty you’ll ever concede. It’s so frustrating. The VAR check was over after 10 seconds.

“I can’t get my head around it, I can’t really understand how they’ve come to that decision.”

Wales will return to action in March on the back of an unbeaten six-game run, stitched together after back-to-back June defeats to Armenia and Turkey that ultimately cost them dear.

But Page was delighted by his side’s performance following a tepid display in drawing 1-1 away to Armenia on Saturday.

He said: “I think you saw from the first minute we were at them. I challenged JJ (Jordan James) and Ethan (Ampadu) to be a little more creative on the ball.

“I thought both of them stepped up to the plate – and then some. JJ went to another level and from the first minute there was no thought of ‘we’ve got the play-offs’.

“We weren’t taking our foot off the gas. We were going for the win.

“If we can recreate the performance we had against Croatia, home and away, and Turkey – even out there before we went down to 10 men – then we will be OK.”

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