Wales hopeful of qualifying after Bale salvages point against Croatia

Wales hopes of qualifying for Euro 2020 remain alive after they drew 1-1 with Croatia at the Cardiff City Stadium

This, as Ryan Giggs was only too happy to highlight, might yet prove a priceless point for Wales in the grand scheme of things. They were made to work overtime against Group E leaders Croatia, with Gareth Bale cancelling out a ninth-minute opener by Nikola Vlasic in a bruising encounter punctuated by several wholehearted challenges, including an inauspicious first-half collision that left the Manchester United winger Daniel James in a heap. James went on to complete the match but Ethan Ampadu was not so fortunate five minutes into the second half, hobbling off after clashing with the Croatia forward Bruno Petkovic, who laid on Vlasic’s opener.

James said he was not knocked unconscious and his manager suggested the winger feigned injury, despite being grounded after being sandwiched by the Croatia pair Domagoj Vida and Borna Barisic, who flung themselves at a loose ball that James tried to head on out to the right flank. The ground fell silent and the referee Bjorn Kuipers immediately signalled for medical attention, which James received for almost three minutes.

“He was compos mentis,” Giggs said. “We did tests at half-time and he passed them. He stayed down, I say about players being smart and he was smart, he stayed down and he was fine. The physios came over and there was no problem. He stayed down, he was a bit streetwise, he told the doctors ‘I’m just not moving, I’m just sitting still,’ not to get anyone sent off but just using his nous. At half-time, he did and passed all of the concussion tests. He was fine.”

Dan James lying on the ground after being fouled.
Dan James lying on the ground after being fouled. Photograph: Alex Davidson/Getty Images

By the end it was a case of the walking wounded, with Bale succumbing to a spot of cramp, Ampadu forced off and the Croatia and Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic nursing a knee injury sustained in the buildup to Wales’ equaliser in the penultimate of four minutes of first-half stoppage-time. Ben Davies, on his 50th cap for his country, rampaged his way through like a rhino, nicking the ball away from Kovacic in the process before feeding Bale, who took a touch, steadied himself and then delivered the killer finish. ”When Gareth gets into those positions, he never lets you down,” Giggs said. “It’s just his composure – when he does get those chances, he puts them away.”

Croatia, World Cup finalists last year, are a point away from securing their place at next summer’s finals, while Wales remain in a healthy position, despite qualification moving out of their hands. If Croatia beat Slovakia in Rijeka next month and Wales win their remaining matches against Azerbaijan and Hungary, Giggs’s side will have done enough. “We’ve got to win both games and rely on others, but we’re in it,” Giggs said. “I wanted to be in it after these games. We’ve shown our quality and concentration in these games.”

The only negative for Wales, who were again without Aaron Ramsey through injury, is that Joe Allen will miss the trip to Baku in November through suspension after picking up a yellow card here, though Joe Morrell, the Bristol City midfielder on loan at League One Lincoln City again impressed off the bench against a star-studded Croatia midfield trio of Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic, who replaced Kovacic at the interval. “I thought he was fantastic – it is not easy coming into the centre-midfield against Croatia,” Giggs said, smiling. “We’ve got players who can come in and do a job.”

Arguably Croatia’s standout performer was Josip Brekalo, who scored twice against England at the Under-21 European Championship in the summer. Brekalo was the catalyst for Vlasic’s ninth-minute opener, with the Wolfsburg forward dancing down the left flank and bamboozling Tom Lockyer before passing the baton on to Petkovic, who fed Vlasic. The former Everton midfielder applied an economical finish that sneaked into the corner of Wayne Hennessey’s goal via a post. Croatia, too, owing to cautions sustained here, will be bereft of key cogs Dejan Lovren and Vida through suspension when they meet Slovakia in a game that is ostensibly as crucial to Wales as it is to them next month. “We need to be more careful,” conceded Zlatko Dalic, the Croatia head coach. “We started well, but we are not happy with the result.”


Ben Fisher at Cardiff City Stadium

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