Wales make history as they qualify for first major tournament in 58 years
Published 10/10/2015 | 21:49
Wales will end a 58-year wait to play at a major tournament at Euro 2016 next summer despite suffering a 2-0 defeat to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Chris Coleman's side did it the hard way in losing 2-0 to Bosnia-Herzegovina in Zenica, Milan Djuric and Vedad Ibisevic netting second-half goals as Wales slipped to a first defeat of their Group B campaign.
But Cyprus' 2-1 win in Israel stamped their passport to France and Wales will take their place at a major tournament for the first time since the likes of John Charles and Ivor Allchurch were gracing the 1958 World Cup.
Gareth Bale started his first game since damaging a calf playing for Real Madrid on September 16, but he was not at his sharpest on a night when Wales needed only a point to secure qualification for themselves.
Bosnia's record goalscorer Edin Dzeko only made the bench after a recent knee problem and the former Manchester City striker's absence was sorely felt as the hosts were largely toothless throughout.
Wales had the safety net of group minnows Andorra's visit to Cardiff on Tuesday to secure qualification, but Coleman had promised to take the game to a Bosnian side who still harboured hopes of a play-off place with Israel two points above them going into the final two rounds of matches.
But Coleman was aware that Wales were capable of utilising the pace of Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu and picking off Bosnia if the hosts over-committed going forward.
It was a tactic which almost paid off as early as the third minute when Aaron Ramsey released Bale and his ball to Robson-Kanu was just about cut out with the Reading man in tap-in territory.
However, Bosnia were also giving their passionate supporters plenty of encouragement with Roma playmaker Miralem Pjanic keen to get on the ball.
The ball had to be changed after appearing to go flat and the new one was almost to Wales' liking as Bale found space down the left.
Bale delivered an inviting cross in what might be termed as the corridor of uncertainty between defenders and goalkeeper but Robson-Kanu was unable to latch on to it.
Senad Lulic tried to inject some urgency into Bosnia's play with a forceful run but Ashley Williams ensured it came to nothing before Ramsey broke forward with menace and Bale sent a free-kick at Asmir Begovic in the Bosnian goal.
Begovic had more to worry about at the end of the half when Ramsey bore down on his goal but the chance went begging with Neil Taylor penalised as the ball ran close near to the line.
Pjanic caused some panic among the Wales defence after the re-start but Williams snuffed out the danger and Bosnia were still struggling to place the visitors under any meaningful pressure.
They were also served warning that they could not relax at the back when Bale raced into Taylor's ball and showed Toni Sunjic a clean pair of heels before firing over.
There was a growing anxiety among Bosnian supporters but the news from Israel was good for both them and the Welsh contingent, with Cyprus having taken the lead in Jerusalem.
Bosnian fans were demanding the entrance of Dzeko, who was warming up, and there was little to excite them on the pitch until substitute Djuric struck with 19 minutes remaining.
Skipper Williams, for once, missed a free-kick directed into the Wales penalty area and Djuric looped a header over Wayne Hennessey and under the crossbar.
It got worse for Wales with news of an Israel equaliser and they pushed forward themselves in search of a leveller.
But they conceded a second in the final minute when Ibisevic turned home Djuric's cross from close range.
By then, however, the 700 or so visiting fans were celebrating as news filtered through of Cyprus' victory to kick-start the biggest party Welsh football has ever known.