Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey became the 3rd player to reach the landmark of 100 Welsh caps in the friendly against the Czech Republic on Tuesday night in Cardiff. The other two who have achieved the century also appeared in the 1-1 draw: Chris Gunter won his 107th cap and Gareth Bale his 102nd after coming on as sub in the 80th minute to frighten the Czech defenders in a brief cameo. The draw means that Cymru’s best-ever sequence of unbeaten home games has extended to 18 while the head-to-head against CZ now stands at P6, W1, D4, L1, Goals F5-A5.
Bangor-born, Biwmares-bred Hennessey was substituted after an hour, going off to a warm ovation from the small crowd and a big hug from his best friend Bale while allowing third-choice goalie Adam Davies to get a bit of international experience. Now with Burnley after long stints at Wolverhampton Wanderers and Crystal Palace, he won his first cap in 2007 against New Zealand and is a cousin of Terry Hennessey – a hard-tackling defensive stalwart for Wales who won 39 caps between 1962 and 1972. At 35 he’s not that old for a keeper, so it’s conceivable he might eventually overhaul Gunter and Bale and become the most capped Welsh player of all time.
The match was a hastily-arranged replacement for the postponed World Cup play-off showdown against either Scotland or Ukraine and, as such, was a chance for Rob Page to give his second XI a run-out and blood some young prospects. Of those, the speedy Brennan Johnson particularly impressed in attack. He laid on the equalising Welsh goal for Rubin Colwill, who showed enough flashes of quality to look like he might make the grade in international football. Both sides were recovering from very different experiences in the play-off semi-finals last week: while Wales were beating Austria the Czechs were losing 1-0 after extra-time to Sweden. As a result it was never going to be a classic, but there were still plenty of interesting and diverting moments as well as the blessed relief from must-win pressure.
Apart from Wales v Scotland or Ukraine, European qualification for the 2022 World Cup is now complete, with Poland and Portugal joining the automatic qualifiers after their play-off final wins over Sweden and North Macedonia respectively this week. Globally, 29 of the 32 qualifiers (including hosts Qatar) have now been decided. All that is left to determine are the two qualifiers from the inter-confederation play-offs on June 13th/14th (UAE or Australia from Asia v Peru from South America; Costa Rica from Central America v New Zealand from Oceania), and then, in Cardiff, on a date in June yet to be determined, Cymru’s appointment with destiny. My stress levels go through the roof just thinking about it; naturally, we must wait in purgatory longer than everyone else on the planet. The frail straw I now grasp is that this is exactly what happened in 1958 when we were the very last of the 16 qualifiers for the tournament in Sweden. Is it a portent? Is there a pattern? Is synchronicity at work? How much does a prayer stool cost on Amazon?