By Paul Jones
Rob Page insists Wales can still make the Euro 2024 finals in Germany next year – but they will probably need to get there via the play-offs.
A 1-1 draw against Armenia in Yerevan means Wales now need favours from others if they are to earn qualification directly.
With Latvia unable to spring a Saturday night shock against Croatia, Page and his men must hope Armenia beat or draw with the Croats on the same Tuesday night that Wales host Turkey in their final game.
Otherwise, it will be play-offs next March, thanks to Wales’ showing in the Nations League.
“We look forward to finishing with momentum (against Turkey) and if it’s a play-off in March, then we take that,” said Page.
“The positives are now we want to finish the camp on a high. We’ve got to pick ourselves up and finish with a performance on Tuesday.”
Page admitted Wales were far from their best as they went 1-0 down after just five minutes before an own goal drew them level.
Wales manager Rob Page and midfielder Ethan Ampadu react to the 1-1 draw away in Yerevan today.
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) November 18, 2023
Wales lacked creative spark and composure and Page admitted: “We’re disappointed, of course. We wanted to get the win.
“We didn’t get off to the best start, but we always knew they were going to throw everything at us.
“To go a goal behind after four minutes was really disappointing, but I thought then we took control of the game and grew into the first half.
“We scored at the perfect time, but the break came at a bad time.”
Lucas Zelarayan fired Armenia ahead – the same player who struck twice in Wales’ 4-2 home defeat to Armenia in June.
An own goal from Nair Tiknizyan drew Wales level in first-half stoppage time, but they were unable to get a winner and will be without the suspended defender Chris Mepham for the match against Turkey after he picked up a yellow card.
Wales and Leeds United midfielder Ethan Ampadu conceded: “We showed a reaction and tried to dominate the game, but we couldn’t put the ball in the net.
Croatia win in Latvia leaves Wales hoping for big favour from Armenia on Tuesday. Wales will qualify automatically for Euro 2024 if they beat Turkey and Armenia avoid defeat to Croatia in Zagreb. https://t.co/tpO3tfOgu2
— Phil Blanche 🏴 (@philblanche) November 18, 2023
“We are always good at bouncing back and on Tuesday we need to control what we can control and get the result we need and maybe we will get a little bit of luck along the way.”
The only crumb of comfort for Wales is at least they know how to negotiate a successful passage to a tournament finals via a play-off.
They needed two extra games – victories over Austria and Ukraine – to reach last year’s World Cup finals in Qatar.
Wales were not quite kicked in the Caucasians as painfully as they were caught by the Armenians in Cardiff in the summer, but the upshot is just as wounding.
Reaching Germany next June is now out of their control after a dismal draw leaves them needing a huge favour from Armenia next Tuesday.
Wales must beat Turkey at home – who have already qualified – and hope the Armenians, who are now out, can cause a shock in Croatia.
If those hopes crumble, then it will be the minefield of the play-offs for Page and his men, but they have no-one to blame but themselves.
They rode their luck after going 1-0 down early on, but never found the authority to take charge of the game despite being given a lifeline equaliser with an own goal from Nair Tiknizyan on the stroke of half-time.
After the unexpected blip of brilliance against Croatia, Wales we’re back to normal under Rob Page in Armenia. I never see a tactical game plan from Page. And when it starts badly he changes players but he can’t change games. This younger transitioning side need better guidance.
— Gavin Allen (@Gavinallen) November 19, 2023
Razor-sharp in their recent win over Croatia, this time they were easily blunted by opponents who have twice had the measure of them.
It had been an inauspicious build-up to the game when it emerged that 32 Wales fans had been arrested in Yerevan the night before.
Most were released without charge on Saturday and had they managed to reach the Republican Stadium in time for kick-off they would have seen Wales fall behind.
Only five minutes had gone when some slack defending at a corner enabled Lucas Zelarayán to fire Armenia ahead and ignite the home support.
Wales only half-cleared the ball and when it fell to Zelarayán at the edge of the box, the striker cleverly made room for himself by drifting away from Ethan Ampadu before a powerful low shot found the bottom right-hand corner.
The goal injected plenty of belief into the Armenians and must have revived good memories of their shock 4-2 victory in Cardiff back in June, especially for Zelarayán, who scored twice that night.
But Wales slowly began to exert some control in midfield, through Ampadu and Jordon James.
David Books fired over the bar when he had to snatch at his shot in the penalty area and then saw another effort blocked after Kieffer Moore had pounced on an error.
Wales must go all out in their final qualifying game against Turkey despite facing a difficult task to secure automatic qualification for Euro 2024, coach Rob Page said. https://t.co/PqKzTY06N2 https://t.co/PqKzTY06N2
— Reuters Sports (@ReutersSports) November 19, 2023
But for most of the half, Wales struggled since targetman Moore – their man focal point – was unable to hold up the ball under pressure from the snapping Varazdat Haroyan.
The out-of-favour Bournemouth man had one header that flew wide from a cross by Neco Williams, but not much else and it appeared it was going to be a day to forget for Wales when Chris Mepham was booked – a yellow card that rules him out of the game against Turkey next week.
A shot from Harry Wilson forced Ognjen Cancarevic into a fine save just before the break, before an own goal from Tiknizyan gave Wales an unexpected route back to level terms.
Tiknizyan was under pressure from Joe Rodon at a corner, but there was still little excuse a poor header that skimmed inside his near post.
Page sent Brennan Johnson for Brooks soon after but it was Armenia who threatened next when Vahan Bichakchyan sent a shot crashing against the crossbar.
Daniel James – on for Wilson – added some threat and when he set-up namesake Jordan James, Chancharevich needed to produce another good save.
But Armenia came on strongly near the end and it needed a block from Williams to deny Miranyan.
Danny Ward responded with a superb late save from Edgar Sevikyan.