By defeating Ukraine this Sunday (1-0), Wales won the right to participate in the World Cup, a first since 1958. The golden generation which has carried the Dragons for a good decade has finally achieved what was expected of them: qualify the Welsh for the World Cup.
On October 9, 2017, Cardiff goes extinct. While Wales host Ireland on the last day of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, the locals have all the cards in hand to finish second in Group D, behind Serbia, and go to the play-offs. But, deprived of Gareth Bale injured in the calf, the Dragons end up crucified by James McClean, taking advantage of a blunder by captain Jonathan Williams. Cruel as they had dominated the game. Recent semi-finalist of the Euro in France, Wales therefore missed, for the 15e consecutive time, qualifying for the World Cup. That day, Wayne Hennessey, Ben Davies, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey started. They are the only participants in this disillusion who, almost five years later, today offer the Welsh their first World Cup since 1958.
Hennessey grand cru
With Chris Gunter, holder in 2017 and replacing this Sunday, the most capped Welshman in history (108 selections), and Gareth Bale, it was surely the last chance for this golden generation to represent the colors of their country in a Cup. of the world. With the exception, perhaps, of Ben Davies, only 29 years old. In any case, it was the last for Hennessey, 35, to whom the Welsh should build a statue in front of the Cardiff City Stadium. The Burnley goalkeeper, who could not avoid his team’s relegation to the Championship this season, was not really the strong link in the selection. At the same time, the former Crystal Palace player has only played two Premier League games this year, losing two, and one League Cup game, won on penalties in August 2021.
In what was only his fifth game of 2022, Hennessey put out the performance of a lifetime, making nine saves, including an extraordinary save in the final minutes off a Dovbyk header. The SK Dnipro-1 striker is not the only one to have broken his teeth on the last bastion of Cardiff. It was all of Ukraine that came up against the fantastic performance of the goalkeeper, who had lost his place in the national team since the advent of Danny Ward, who officiates at Leicester. Especially if Hennessey was established, “It’s only because he played in the semi-finals and he didn’t let us down. It would have been hard to let go. I think he reached an incredible level tonight.” , commented Rob Page, the coach, after the meeting. The goalkeeper also managed the feat of shining the spotlight on him as Gareth Bale was responsible for the first goal, while his free kick was deflected by Yarmolenko into his own goal.
Bale in the center
The stakes were high for the Welsh star, who left doubts about his future before the meeting. While he officially announced he won’t continue at Real Madrid last Wednesday, the possibility of retirement should Wales lose was strong. “Will my retirement be postponed? For a little while » , he quipped after the success against Ukraine. The footballer-golfer, and his group of friends, will be responsible for accompanying a rejuvenated group, which is not lacking in talent. Neco Williams, Ethan Ampadu, both 21, as well as Joe Rodon and Daniel James (24), represent the future of the Dragons. It will be necessary to get in tune with “Land of my Fathers”, already the best anthem that will resound in Qatar next fall. Hopefully we can hear it for as long as possible.
By Leo Peat