Match report as a first-half Neco Williams strike earned Wales a draw with Turkey, but it wasn’t enough to usurp Croatia in Group D, who seal the final automatic qualification spot for Euro 2024; Rob Page’s side still have a chance to qualify, but will have to do so via March’s play-offs
By Laura Hunter
Wales will have to settle for the play-offs in their bid to qualify for Euro 2024 after being held to a feisty 1-1 draw with Turkey in their final Group D outing.
Wales’ fate was out of their hands having slipped up against Armenia last time out, meaning they needed to triumph over Turkey and hope Croatia didn’t beat Armenia in order to sneak into the automatic qualification spots.
Rob Page’s side threw everything at it on the night – Neco Williams scoring the opener with a super strike in the seventh minute – before Yusuf Yazici equalised, somewhat controversially, from the penalty spot in the second period.
As it happened, Wales’ result was incidental because the Croats took care of business on their end by narrowly beating Armenia 1-0, and have secured a place at next summer’s tournament in Germany.
All is not lost for Wales, but they now face the jeopardy of a play-off campaign next March, where a home semi-final against Finland, Iceland or Ukraine awaits.
Thursday’s draw will determine who Wales will face, with Poland and Estonia contesting the other semi-final.
What Wales needed to do to reach Euro 2024
- Wales had to beat already-qualified Turkey and hope Croatia failed to do the same when they hosted Armenia.
- Wales would have progressed automatically if they won and Croatia drew, owing to their superior head to head.
- Now Wales must contest a play-off campaign in March to stand any chance of reaching the tournament finals.
This is a limited version of the story so unfortunately this content is not available.
Open the full version
How Wales fell just short of target
The stage was set, the atmosphere electric inside the Cardiff City Stadium, and Wales’ players responded with a particularly intense and energetic first-half display, before a late Turkey fightback ended any faint hope of usurping Croatia. Group D did, at least, go down to the wire.
On what will have inevitably been a nervy night, Wales started the game brimming with confidence, as Williams chopped inside from the left and bent a lovely curling effort into the far corner, beating Ugurcan Cakir for pace and precision.
Turkey were all at odds, but having already secured their spot at Euro 2024, the pressure was off, and they allowed Wales to control and dictate a large chunk of proceedings.
The news of Croatia’s goal, in the corresponding Group D fixture, filtered through the stadium midway through the first half but that failed to dampen Welsh spirits, as Nathan Broadhead and Brennan Johnson continued to torment Turkey’s backline.
When will Wales learn their semi-final opponents?
UEFA will hold a draw on Thursday at 11am UK time to determine which one of three Playoff B teams – Finland, Iceland or Ukraine – will have to take part in Playoff A, which will in turn create the fixtures based upon ranking.
Wales were in complete control until the visitors introduced Yazici shortly after the half-hour mark which altered the balance of the game.
It would be Yazici who netted the leveller from the penalty spot after a Ben Davies tug on Kenan Yildiz. The decision was soft, but the spot-kick was anything but, as Yazici steadied himself before sending Danny Ward the wrong way in the 70th minute.
- Rob Page reacted to the weekend’s Armenia disappointment by making three changes, one of which was enforced, with Chris Mepham suspended and Luton defender Tom Lockyer making his first competitive international appearance since 2021.
- Brennan Johnson and Nathan Broadhead were also introduced on the back of Wales’ makeweight attack in Yerevan.
- Turkey made eight alterations from the starting XI which begun the 3-2 friendly win over Germany in Berlin. Abdulkerim Bardakcı, Ismail Yuksek and Ferdi Kadioglu were the only players to keep their place.
A sense of injustice was attached to the equaliser, not least because the hosts had a series of stronger penalty claims turned down before Turkey were awarded theirs, including one in a frantic first-half spell where Johnson was bundled to the ground from behind, which went unpunished.
Tempers frayed late on, and it was Johnson who came closest to a winner when played through by substitute David Brooks, with the Tottenham forward dispatching an expert finish over Cakir, but was a good yard offside.
Wales have extended their unbeaten run to six games, although that will be of scant consolation as the disappointment of missing out on automatic qualification sinks in.
Wales player ratings
Wales: Ward (7), Roberts (7), Lockyer (6), Davies (6), Rodon (7), Broadhead (7), Jordan James (7), Ampadu (8), Williams (7), Johnson (7), Wilson (7).
Subs: Moore (6), Brooks (6), Daniel James (6)
Player of the match: Ethan Ampadu.
Page vows to brush off disappointment
Wales will look back on a qualifying campaign in which they took four points off Croatia but dropped four to Armenia, including a 4-2 home defeat.
“That level of performance [against Turkey] is what we need to do,” manager Rob Page told SC4. “If we do that when we come back together in March we’ll be okay.
“I’ve got to be careful what I say. We could have had two penalties and it seemed like a soft penalty for them. Sometimes it goes for you, sometimes it doesn’t.
“We’re disappointed we haven’t qualified automatically, but I’m off tomorrow to find out who we’ve got in the draw for the play-off.
“We’ll get together in March and build on what we saw tonight, and against Croatia [a 2-1 home win in October].”
‘Roll on March’
Sky Sports News senior reporter Geraint Hughes at the Cardiff City Stadium:
“Plenty of emotion and tempers spilling over after full time.
“The referee left the pitch to deafening choruses of boos, pantomime and with real feeling! He’s not ‘Mr Popular’.
“Rob Page called the entire squad together in a huddle on the pitch, no doubt reminding them they’ve played very well and that Plan B is now in place.
“The Euros can still become a reality, roll on March. Judging from the crowd response here, they’re very appreciative of the teams’ efforts tonight.”
Analysis: Wales must stick with Page for now
Former Wales forward Rob Earnshaw speaking on Sky Sports News:
“I think it’s the referee’s fault for the penalty, but Wales needed a second goal. They needed more from the second half and they just dropped away a little bit. I’m more confident they can get through the play-offs than I was after the Armenia result.
“Wales should look at the level of the performance they showed against Croatia and take that into the play-offs. I feel they are good enough and in a couple of months they should hopefully have Aaron Ramsey back.
“It’s a case of it being tentative Wales in these qualifiers. Against Armenia, they had to press and be clinical with their chances. The reason they’ve not qualified is because of those two performances.
“They’ve got to stick with Rob Page because it is way more disruptive for the team and the whole nation if they were to change the manager now. Let’s fully go at whoever we play. After that, there will be a review if they don’t get through.”