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Wales misses the European Championships after defeat on penalties against Poland

The Polish players celebrate
Poland failed to score a shot on target against Wales in 120 minutes

Wales sadly missed out on qualifying for Euro 2024 as they suffered a penalty shoot-out defeat to Poland in the play-off final in Cardiff on a night of disappointment.

In the Welsh team’s first penalty shootout in a competitive match, Daniel James missed the only penalty – saved by Wojciech Szczesny – while Poland converted all five.

It was an extremely painful defeat for Robert Page and his players, beaten by a Polish team that had not fired a single shot on target in the entire 120 minutes leading up to the penalty shootout.

Robert Lewandowski’s team can now look forward to meeting France, the Netherlands and Austria in Group D at the European Championships in Germany this summer.

Dejected Wales will have to watch from afar after failing to qualify for a European Championship for the first time since 2012.

Wales is shocked

The stunned expressions on the players’ faces and the brief silence felt by the home crowd spoke volumes.

It will take time for Page, his players and Football Association of Wales chiefs to decide what it means for the team’s long-term future to process the heartbreaking nature of this defeat.

They have to endure this pain for now.

Having become accustomed to qualifying for major tournaments, it was a heartbreaking moment to be one of the most devastating near misses to mark Welsh football in times gone by.

This will hurt for some time.

Anxious intensity

In a tentative, nervous first half, Wales captain Ben Davies had a goal disallowed because he headed home from an offside position.

After the break, opportunities were still at a premium as Kieffer Moore’s header forced Szczesny into a fine save, while Poland’s fearsome striker Lewandowski limited himself to a diving header which he sent over the crossbar.

The tension only increased in extra time when Jakub Piotrowski came within centimeters of the opening goal with a fabulous long-range shot.

Wales were exhausted in the second half of extra time and had to defend resolutely despite strong Polish pressure.

Wales centre-back Chris Mepham was sent off after a second yellow card in the final minute of extra time, but Page’s side held on through the shootout.

However, the Poles converted all five penalties before Leeds United winger James saw his shot parried by Juventus keeper Szczesny, breaking the Welsh’s hearts.

The Polish goalkeeper watches the ball go into the net
Ben Davies saw his effort ruled out for offside before half-time

Cardiff City Stadium has become famous for its atmosphere on nights like these in Wales, but rarely has it sounded so intense on the ground.

Both teams appeared to be worried in the tense early stages as they tried to gain a foothold early in the game without being particularly fluent in passing or able to mount coherent attacks.

It was telling that Wales’ first chance came from a set piece – Davies headed over from Harry Wilson’s corner – while a long throw from Connor Roberts in the Polish penalty area also raised alarms.

This was a typical high-stakes knockout match, with all poking and prodding but few decisive blows.

For a moment Wales thought they had it, again from a set piece.

Davies nodded in after Moore’s header went over the goal – but the fact that all the Welsh players looked at the linesman even before he raised his flag suggested they knew the goal would be disallowed for offside.

Moore again recalled his aerial threat at the start of the second half when his header was brilliantly saved by Szczesny.

Lewandowski, who had been unusually subdued up to this point, had his first glimpse of goal when he headed over from Piotr Zielinski’s corner.

The Barcelona striker then fired a low shot wide of the goal as the clock ticked down to the 90th minute and the specter of extra time loomed.

This was the first time the Wales team had gone to extra time in a competitive game and it looked like they would be denied their first penalty shootout when Piotrowski’s 25-yard shot went narrowly wide.

In the second half of extra time, Wales retreated deep into their own half and faced constant Polish pressure, but the visitors still struggled to create any real scoring chances.

That didn’t matter as the Poles went clean in the penalty shootout before Szczesny made a hero of his own by parrying James’s effort wide, sparking wild celebrations among the traveling fans.

Lineups

Wales

formation 3-4-2-1

  • 12station
  • 5MephamBooked for 120 minutes
  • 6Rodon
  • 4Davies
  • 14RobertsReplaced byBrooksat 84′protocolReplaced byBroadheadat 112′protocol
  • 17JamesBooked for 55 minutes
  • 15Ampadu
  • 3N Williams
  • 8thWilson
  • 9JohnsonReplaced byJamesat 70′protocol
  • 13Moore

Substitute

  • 1Hennessey
  • 2Fox
  • 7Brooks
  • 10Ramsey
  • 11Matondo
  • 16Wild
  • 18Cullen
  • 19Dasilva
  • 20James
  • 21king
  • 22Sheehan
  • 23Broadhead

Poland

formation 3-5-2

  • 1Szczesny
  • 5BednarekReplaced bySalamonat 80′protocol
  • 3Dawidowicz
  • 14Kiwior
  • 19Frankowski
  • 6PiotrowskiBooked for 50 minutesReplaced byRomanczukat 105′protocol
  • 8thSlisz
  • 10ZielinskiReplaced bySzymanskiat 101′protocol
  • 21ZalewskiBooked for 72 minutes
  • 7SwiderskiReplaced byPiatekat 80′protocol
  • 9Lewandowski

Substitute

  • 2Walukiewicz
  • 4Puchacz
  • 11Grosicki
  • 12Skorupski
  • 13Romanczuk
  • 15Buksa
  • 16Szymanski
  • 17Salamon
  • 18Berezzynski
  • 20Szymanski
  • 22Bulk
  • 23Piatek

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