Wales claimed a 2-0 win over Latvia in their Euro 2024 Qualifier in Riga to stay in the qualification mix with three games to play in Group D.
In what was billed as a must-win for boss Robert Page, Wales took a 28th-minute lead from the penalty spot. Kaspars Dubra bundled over Harry Wilson and Aaron Ramsey coolly converted for his 100th career goal.
Chances came and went for Wales with Brennan Johnson particularly wasteful as Latvia sensed an unlikely equaliser.
Janis Ikaunieks survived a VAR review for a red card after aiming a wild kick at Jordan James as Slovakian referee Michal Ocenas stuck to his on-field decision despite coming over to review the incident on the screen.
David Brooks put the issue beyond Latvia in the sixth minute of stoppage time.
Wales have to play Croatia (h), Armenia (a) and Turkey (h) across their final three games as it’s all to play for in Group D.
Wales player ratings
Wales: Ward (7), Mepham (6), Rodon (6), Davies (6), Roberts (7), Ampadu (6), James (7), Williams (6), Ramsey (7), Wilson (7), Johnson (5)
Subs: Brooks (7), Bradshaw (6)
Player of the match: Harry Wilson
Wales get the job done…
On a night when Wales simply had to win or be left with a Nations League route to Germany next summer, there was further good news before kick-off as group leaders Croatia did them a favour by winning 1-0 in Armenia.
- Wales made just one change from the 0-0 draw with South Korea as Aaron Ramsey returned in a midfield that contained 19-year-old Jordan James, who was given his chance by Rob Page.
Wales should have had the perfect start inside 75 seconds when Ethan Ampadu released Johnson but Tottenham’s new striker skied over on his unfavoured left side.
Chances continued to come and go for Wales with Johnson wayward again and Ben Davies heading over from close range. Latvia provided a helping hand when Dubra bundled over Wilson after 28 minutes.
The incident survived a VAR check for a potential offside in the build-up and Ramsey coolly converted for his landmark goal.
Latvia had shown nothing as an attacking force for 41 minutes before suddenly bursting into life.
Ward shovelled out an Ikaunieks header that Conor Roberts had to clear as the Latvian striker prepared to pounce for the rebound, while Raimonds Krollis almost profited twice after being left unmarked.
Latvia might have been reduced to 10 men when Ikaunieks aimed a wild kick at James and the referee brandished a yellow card before being asked to review the decision at the VAR monitor. After a two-minute check the referee stuck with his original decision and Ikaunieks escaped further sanction.
The final quarter became scrappy with Wales sinking deeper towards their own goal.
Ikaunieks’ 20-yard shot flew into the side netting before Brooks ended matters by racing on to Wilson’s pass and scoring with a fine chipped finish.
Page: Backing from my players powerful
Page called the backing from his players “powerful” after Wales bounced back into Euro 2024 qualifying contention.
Page said of the players’ support: “It feels good, it feels powerful, absolutely – that’s a massive compliment to myself from the players.
“I’ve just said to them, even the lads that have not played, they all play a part. There are no bad eggs in that changing room.
“Pressure doesn’t exist, it is created from outside influence.
“We did our best as staff to try to not let that penetrate the bubble and keep as calm as possible.
“We knew it was going to be a tough test for us after their heavy defeat. It wasn’t just about the win, I thought the performance was outstanding.
“For the first 35 minutes of the first half, we were outstanding, kept the ball. We got the goal and then retreated a little bit, which we’ll address.”
Johnson shackled by the burden of Bale?
Sky Sports’ Lewis Jones writes:
In Adam Bate’s brilliant breakdown of why Tottenham have signed Brennan Johnson, he wrote: “The history of Johnson’s career to date suggests that when a new challenge is put in front of him, he soon makes the step up.”
Well, a big challenge that faces him for Wales is stepping out of the shadows to fill the void left by Gareth Bale. A daunting task but one that hasn’t gone well so far.
Since Bale retired, Johnson has played 240 minutes for Wales but has failed to add to his record of two goals from his 22 international caps.
Playing up front, through the middle on your own for your country away in Latvia when anything but a win won’t do certainly is not what Johnson is used to. This is a player has made his name at Nottingham Forest as a dynamic wide forward, who earns his crust running in behind and terrorising full-backs. Being a focal point up against two bulky centre-backs can be a lonesome and bruising experience but Johnson adapted his game with plenty of intelligence in Riga.
All that was missing was his finishing touch. Perhaps weighed down with the expectation of following in the footsteps of a sporting icon, he tightened up in front of goal, snatching at chances, and cut a frustrated figure as Wales toiled for large parts of their 2-0 win. Johnson had five shots to a backdrop of 0.49-worth of expected goals but fluffed his lines with some wayward finishing that saw four of those efforts miss the target.
It wasn’t his night.
But writing off someone possessing his level of talent would be a foolish move. Wales have to play Croatia, Armenia and Turkey across their final three games as it’s all to play for in Group D.
Johnson will need to rise to that challenge. His country needs him.
Earnshaw: A monumental win
Robert Earnshaw on Sky Sports News:
“Wales were a little bit lucky. They had 24 attempts on goal, nine corners, two goals – and waited until the end to finish it off. It is a fantastic win and that is how Wales should be playing. They finally got over the line and I’m happy.
“I’m happy for Robert Page as well because there’s been a lot of pressure on him. Tonight was must-win because the pressure if they didn’t win the game would have been huge.
“They created the most chances I’ve seen from a Wales team in years, but they didn’t put them away. They are struggling to finish right now. What this will do is help confidence, help settle the nerves. I think they will be more inclined now to talk about how they approach the next games.
They play Croatia at home, Turkey at home and Armenia away. Those three are must-win if they want to qualify. The most they can drop is maybe two points from one of those games.
“This will be a confidence boost. It’s a monumental win. That wine is going to taste sweeter tonight and that coffee in the morning is going to be sipped very nicely!”
Can Wales qualify for Euro 2024 through the Nations League?
If Wales fail to qualify through this group, there is still hope courtesy of the Nations League. Three Euro 2024 spots are allocated to teams based on their Nations League performances, where Leagues A, B, and C are allocated one place each with the winner of each play-off, consisting of a semi-final and final, secure safe passage to the upcoming Euros.
Wales suffered relegation from League A in September but due to almost every team in League A on course to qualify automatically for the tournament, a spot in the play-offs is essentially guaranteed.
The draw takes place in November 2023, with the play-off semi-finals and finals being played between March 21 and 26, 2024.
Latvia’s next game is a Euro 2024 Qualifier against Armenia in Riga on October 12 – kick-off 5pm.
Wales’ next outing is against Gibraltar in a friendly at the Racecourse Ground on October 11 – kick-off 7.45pm.