This week’s 2-1 win against Croatia in Euro 2024 qualifying is Cymru’s best result since the epic defeat of Ukraine in the World Cup play-off last year, and is thus the best result yet in the post-Bale era. Beating the team ranked 6th in the FIFA rankings (Cymru are currently 33rd) in a must-win match has kept hopes of qualification very much alive with two games to play in November and has also silenced the keyboard warriors and English trolls who have been agitating, with destructive intent, for Rob Page’s dismissal. It was a thoroughly deserved victory, delivered by a thrilling all-round team performance in front of a capacity crowd at Cardiff City Stadium, with Ethan Ampadu and Jordan James bossing Croatia’s celebrated midfield, captain Ben Davies, Joe Rodon and Chris Mepham unyielding in defence, David Brooks a revelation in attack and Harry Wilson calmly and stylishly notching the two vital goals on his 50th appearance.
What’s more, at the eighth attempt, Cymru have defeated Croatia at last! Our record against eastern European sides is generally dreadful, so this result was an authentic breakthrough and hopefully a sign that the tide has turned. The head-to-head record versus Croatia is now: P8, W1, D3, L4, Goals F7-A12.
This is now the position in Group D:
●Türkiye have qualified already
●Top two qualify
●When teams are level on points, head-to-head record in Group determines placings
●Remaining fixtures: 18/11 Armenia v Cymru, Latvia v Croatia; 21/11 Croatia v Armenia, Cymru v Türkiye
I should mention that there is still a route to qualification for teams that don’t finish in the top two of the 10 Groups. To join hosts Germany plus those 20 automatic qualifiers in the 24-team tournament, three more teams will qualify through play-offs. The play-offs will involve 12 teams selected on the basis of their positions in the 2022/23 Nations League. They will be divided into three ‘paths’, each containing four teams, with one team from each path qualifying for the Euro 2024 tournament after semi-finals and finals next March. I don’t intend to go into the fiendishly complicated process by which the 12 teams are chosen, suffice to say here that Cymru could well be in the dreaded play-offs should we fail to qualify automatically, having participated in Nations League Group A in 2022/23 (remember?). Since contemplating the prospect of play-offs brings me out in prickly hives, let us not delve any further into this topic.
Mention must be made of Cymru’s first ever meeting with Gibraltar. The friendly against the side ranked 198th in the world was played at Wrecsam four days before the Croatia game and Cymru comfortably won 4-0, with goals from Davies, Moore 2 and Broadhead. Aerial menace Kieffer Moore has now scored 12 goals in 37 appearances – statistics that nearly compare to the 15 goals in 38 appearances of the mighty John Charles (1931-2004)! Gibraltar, which has the population of Aberdâr, worked hard to keep the score respectable and the predictable online vitriol hurled at Cymru for ‘only’ scoring four merely revealed the ignorance of the Cymruphobes. FACT: Gibraltar have played 82 internationals and conceded 271 goals, a rate of 3.3 goals per game, so Cymru’s four goals in a warm-up match featuring second-string players and many substitutions was better than the average.
Finally, a word or two about FAW Chief Executive Noel Mooney, who has been so impressive since his appointment in 2021. But, it turns out, he’s only human – as illustrated by his completely unnecessary comment before the Croatia match that the position of Rob Page would be ‘reviewed’ should Cymru fail to qualify automatically. If that were not bad enough, reports suggested that he had fellow Cork Irishman Roy Keane already lined up as Page’s replacement. Yes, that Roy Keane. Do I need to mention Alfie Haaland? Page and the whole squad were rightly angered by Mooney’s crass, ill-timed intervention, and the patently incorrect implication that there are queues of suitable, knowledgeable, available and cost-effective coaches who could do a better job. If Keane is the best Mooney can come up with, then there clearly are not. We are lucky to have Rob Page. Cherish him.