Ukraine was denied in the cruellest way possible as the war-torn country’s World Cup dream was shattered at the last hurdle.
Gareth Bale led Wales to their first World Cup since 1958, when Ukraine’s dreams of reviving a war-torn country were cruelly denied by a 1-0 defeat in Cardiff on Monday (AEST).
Bale’s free-kick, which was turned into his own goal by Ukrainian captain Andriy Yarmolenko, separated the teams despite the visitors dominating the match in difficult conditions at the Cardiff City Stadium.
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Ukraine made a nation proud by beating Scotland 3-1 on Wednesday in their first competitive clash since the invasion of Russia.
Oleksandr Petrakov’s men deserved much more from another exceptionally composed performance, with an effort to carry the hopes of a people ravaged by Russian aggression.
The Ukrainian national anthem was cheered from all parts of the stadium before the match and, just like during their midweek trip to Scotland, visitors were inspired rather than inhibited by the pressure exerted on them.
However, they were forced to pay an exceptionally high price for failing to take their chances and a moment of misfortune.
Oleksandr Zinchenko found the net after just three minutes, but the Manchester City man is believed to have kicked the free-kick that caught Wayne Hennessey off guard too quickly.
Hennessey therefore had to be careful to prevent Roman Yaremchuk from opening the scoring before Viktor Tsygankov cut wide a glorious chance.
Wales had barely threatened Ukraine’s goal, but in Bale they have a star who can change the course of games in an instant.
The 32-year-old is without a club, having brought down the curtain on nine years at Real Madrid by picking up the fifth Champions League winner medal last weekend.
Bale has reserved the best of himself for international service in recent years and will now have the chance to add a World Cup to a glorious career.
His free kick in the 34th minute went off target until Yarmolenko tried to head him to safety and only managed to deflect the ball past the defenseless Georgiy Bushchan.
Ukraine refused to be crushed by that misfortune and were unfortunate not to receive a penalty before half-time when Yarmolenko was stopped by Joe Allen inside the box.
The pattern continued into the second half when Rob Page’s men were stuck in their own half again.
But the home team had a great chance of doubling their lead on the break when Aaron Ramsey swerved wide, Brennan Johnson hit the post and Bale meekly pulled into Bushchan’s arms.
On the other hand, chances continue to come and go as Tsygkanov’s shot is blocked by Hennessey before Yaremchuk pushes the rebound wide.
A fight to the death from Ben Davies then prevented Yarmolenko from shooting for the redemption.
Ukraine’s matchday was summed up with five minutes left as Hennessey made a stunning save to keep replacement Artem Dovbyk’s header from finding the top corner.
But Wales are now unbeaten in 19 home games dating back nearly four years for one reason: they were roared home by a majority of 33,000 spectators.
The last time Wales participated in a World Cup they were knocked out by a goal for 17-year-old Pele for Brazil in the quarter-finals.
This generation of Welsh players achieved the seemingly impossible by making it to the Euro 2016 semi-finals in their first major tournament in 58 years.
Now they have once again written themselves in the history books when in November they have the chance to face England, the United States and Iran in Qatar.
Originally published as Ukraine in anguish after a devastating and cruel blow ruins the dream of the World Cup