Written By: Abidoye Babatunde
Wales handed the initiative to Croatia in European Championship qualifying (ECQ) Group D after Rob Page’s men failed to overcome Armenia in a closely-fought 1-1 draw. The result leaves Welsh hopes of a third consecutive appearance at the Euro finals in major doubt.
Wales’ surprise triumph over Croatia last month had put them firmly in charge of their qualification hopes heading into their penultimate Group D fixture against Armenia. Yet the hosts, requiring a victory to keep their faint hopes of qualification alive, had other ideas. Lucas Zelarayán, who netted twice in the reverse fixture in Cardiff last June, put Armenia ahead with the first attack of the game, firing clinically from the edge of the box through a crowded goalmouth into the bottom corner.
Wales almost responded immediately with David Brooks’ side-footed effort whistling over the bar, while Harry Wilson’s curling shot seemed destined for the net but was met with a fine one-handed save by Ognjen Čančarević. Page’s side probed throughout the opening half and they were duly rewarded for their perseverance on the stroke of half fime when under pressure defender Nair Tiknizyan headed a long-throw into the box into his own net.
Armenia attacked with increased intensity in the second period and they almost regained their lead on the hour-mark when Vahan Bichakhchyan rattled a shot off the underside of the bar before Zelarayán squandered a glorious opportunity on the rebound, volleying harmlessly over from six yards.
A tense finale ensued with both teams adopting a growing sense of urgency to snatch the win and Wales turning to their bench to make a handful of attacking changes. However, that only seemed to encourage Armenia to press further as Wales struggled to create opportunities. The Dragons faced late pressure as Edgar Sevikyan’s left-footed attempt was beaten away by Danny Ward in added time, before the substitute scuffed another late effort wide of the target.
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A point apiece plunges both nations’ qualification hopes from Group D into serious doubt with Croatia able to leapfrog Wales into second place in their evening game against struggling Latvia, whilst Armenia’s campaign is all but over bar an unlikely combination of results.
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