Cymru return to 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying next month with two crucial Group E fixtures against Belarus and Estonia as Rob Page and his squad look to move a step closer to booking their place at the finals in Qatar.
In addition to the qualifying double-header, Cymru will start the month with a friendly against Finland in Helsinki on 1 September before heading to Kazan in Russia to take on Belarus on 5 September in what will be their third group match. The squad will then return to Cardiff to face Estonia on 8 September with the backing of the Red Wall.
The Story So Far
Cymru currently sit third in Group E following an opening defeat against Belgium back in March. Harry Wilson opened the scoring in Leuven as he rounded-off a superb team move, but the home side responded with goals from Kevin De Bryne, Thorgan Hazard and Romelu Lukaku to claim maximum points in a 3-1 win. On the same evening, the Czech Republic showed their intentions with a 6-2 win over Estonia.
Belgium are the current group leaders despite dropping points in a 1-1 draw against the Czech Republic in Prague in their second match. However, Roberto Martinez's side responded to the setback a few days later by scoring eight without reply against Belarus. Meanwhile, Daniel James proved to be the Cymru hero back in Cardiff as his 82nd minute header proved to be the difference in an impressive 1-0 win over the Czech Republic. Estonia remain the only team in the group without a point following their 4-2 defeat to Belarus in Minsk.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
On the Belgium defeat
“We got off to a terrific start. We knew going into the game that they would have large parts of the possession. We scored a wonderful goal against the top team in the world, but we were disappointed to concede the goals in the manner in which we did. If you give top teams like that half a chance you're going to get punished, and we absolutely did. For large parts of the second half we played extremely well, but the third goal killed that momentum and we struggled after that. But I thought there were a tremendous amount of positives in that second half and we're pleased with that.” - Manager Rob Page to Sky Sports.
“Obviously it was great to get an early goal. We felt like we were set up well and our game plan was going well, but I guess a few little sloppy mistakes from ourselves let them back in. We know they're a great team and they have great players. We're disappointed to lose but we always knew it was going to be difficult coming here. We have to take the positives out of the game and take them into the next game. We have to bounce back, and we have to remember they're the number one team in the world, so let's not be too harsh on ourselves.” - Captain Gareth Bale to Sky Sports.
On the victory over the Czech Republic
“We're really happy with the result. Of course, we could have done better from a performance point of view but we will address that another time. What we've had to do in recent months is find a way to win and we've done that again tonight. It's pleasing to get the win, and we had to fight hard for it. In the main, we created the better chances, and we're happy with the three points. We knew a win would set up up nicely and it's certainly done that now.” - Manager Rob Page to Sgorio.
"It's a massive result, a huge result, especially after the first game. We knew we had to pick ourselves up and that it would be a tough game and we fought right to the end. I've been a bit disappointed with my last couple of headers at club level but thankfully it went in. When we got the goal, we always believed we were going to win. It was tough because they've got some great attacking players. Just as much as I got the goal, credit to Joe Rodon at the end as well. That block was as good as what I did.” - Goalscorer Daniel James to Sky Sports.
All 55 UEFA nations were drawn across ten groups of five and six teams, with all ten group winners automatically qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals which will take in Qatar in November and December next year.
The ten group runners-up qualify for the play-offs, and will be joined by the two highest-ranked UEFA Nations League group winners who fail to finish in the top two positions of their qualifying group.
The play-offs will comprise of three separate mini-tournaments, with the three play-off winners qualifying for the finals of the competition alongside the ten group winners. Qualifying will be completed in November 2021 with the play-offs taking place in March 2022.
A crucial factor for Cymru in this campaign could be the fact that Rob Page's side finished top of UEFA Nations League B4 in the 2020/21 edition of the tournament.
Undefeated over six games, Cymru registered five victories including a decisive double over the Republic of Ireland and Finland in Cardiff back in November 2020 in the final round of games.
Winning the Nations League group means that Cymru are very likely to claim a play-off place even if the side finish outside the top two positions of their qualifying group.