Tuesday 19 June 2018

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Woodburn fires Wales back into contention

Wales 1 Austria 0

Ben Woodburn of Wales (22) scores Photo: Getty
Ben Woodburn of Wales (22) scores Photo: Getty

Independent.ie Sportsdesk

Ben Woodburn kept Wales' World Cup qualification hopes alive with a dream debut winner against Austria. The Liverpool striker does not turn 18 for another six weeks and Wales were searching for a hero when he was sent on after 69 minutes.

At that point Nottingham-born Woodburn fully committed himself to Wales and dashed any last hope England had of snatching him away from the Dragons. And within five minutes he smashed home from 22 yards to give Wales a priceless victory.

Stefan Lainer of Austria heads clear Photo: Getty
Stefan Lainer of Austria heads clear Photo: Getty

Woodburn's strike means Wales will now travel to Moldova on Tuesday with renewed belief that they can make the 2018 World Cup in Russia next summer.

Wales were unbeaten in six qualifiers, but five consecutive draws - the first such run of results in their history - had put hopes of reaching the tournament in the balance. There was also no margin of error for Austria who, like Wales, were seven points adrift of top spot at kick-off following Serbia's earlier victory over Moldova.

But Wales and Austria knew a victory would cut the gap to second spot - and a potential play-off place - to two points after the Republic's draw in Georgia.

Wales manager Chris Coleman had predicted an open and exciting game in such circumstances, and Gareth Bale had a sight of goal within two minutes as Austria backed off him and allowed him to drag wide.

Wales manager Chris Coleman controls the ball on the touchline Photo: Getty
Wales manager Chris Coleman controls the ball on the touchline Photo: Getty

Austria were failing to stay with runners from midfield and they had another escape when Aaron Ramsey broke in to the area to fire over Heinz Lindner's crossbar.

The visitors were relieved again when Ramsey fired over, but they soon began to establish a foothold with Marko Arnautovic and David Alaba prominent. Arnautovic twice delivered dangerous crosses from the left, with James Chester almost diverting the second one into his own goal.

Austria suffered a blow when Sebastian Prodl was forced off after 27 minutes with a suspected hamstring injury, but Wales were struggling to find any attacking rhythm. And Austria should have been ahead when skipper Julian Baumgartlinger slipped in Arnautovic with a delightful pass. But his finish from the angle was horrible and out of keeping with a performance which had troubled Wales throughout.

Tom Lawrence flashed an effort wide for Wales, but Marcel Sabitzer twice went close as Austria finished the first half on top. Coleman had changed formation in an attempt to curb Austria's growing menace before the break, switching to four at the back rather than three. But at half-time Andy King was sent on to bolster midfield and Ramsey was pushed into a more advanced role.

The switch paid almost instant dividends when Ashley Williams headed down a free-kick and Ramsey's attempt was blocked by the arm of Martin Hintereger, although the Austria defender appeared to know little about it.

It was Wales who were now asking all the questions and Lindner just about managed to keep out Bale's terrific 30-yard strike.

Ramsey was denied by the fingertips of Lindner and, with the pressure growing, Hal Robson-Kanu and Woodburn were sent on for the final charge.

Incredibly, Woodburn was soon the hero as Austria made a hash of clearing their lines and the teenager quickly got the ball under his control to lash home.

Arnautovic almost equalised moments later, but Williams' headed away from under his crossbar and Wales finished strongly.

Bale felt he should have been awarded a penalty when he was barged over in the closing stages and he was denied at the death by Lindner's flying save.

Robson-Kanu also hit a post in the final seconds, but Wales held on for a victory that keeps their hopes of qualification very much alive.

Sunday Indo Sport

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