Report as Wales' hopes of automatic Euro 2024 qualification are out of their hands following a 1-1 draw with Armenia in Yerevan; Lucas Zelarayan's fifth-minute opener cancelled out by Nair Tiknizyan's headed own goal but hopes of Wales reaching finals in Germany take dent
Sunday 19 November 2023 09:45, UK
Rob Page said his side will be ready for a potential play-off battle to reach Euro 2024 after their automatic qualification hopes were hit by a 1-1 draw with Armenia.
Croatia beat Latvia later after Wales' draw on Saturday to move above them into second place in Group D, meaning Rob Page's side must beat already-qualified Turkey in Cardiff on Tuesday and hope Croatia fail to do the same at home to Armenia.
"Unfortunately it's now out of our control," Page said. "With a win, we'd all have been buzzing and looking forward to the game on Tuesday, and a win would have seen us qualify.
"It's not materialised as we'd like, but that's life and we have to get on with it. It's about building momentum and, if it's a play-off in March, it's a play-off in March."
Wales got off to the worst possible start as they failed to clear a corner and Lucas Zelarayan, who scored twice in Cardiff, found space to unleash a powerful low effort past Danny Ward after just five minutes.
Nair Tiknizyan's headed own goal from Connor Roberts' long throw restored parity for Page's side on the stroke of half-time but they could not complete the turnaround in the second period.
Armenia might well have won it in stoppage time but Ward made a fine save to deny substitute Edgar Sevikyan.
Page said: "We got off to the worst possible start, we knew they were going to come out the traps fast. I'm disappointed with that.
"I thought we grew in the first half and scored at the perfect time. But the break came at a bad time for us because I thought we were growing in momentum.
"We got into some OK positions. Whether it was the final pass or the final ball, that final detail wasn't quite right for whatever reason.
"We threw everything at it and both teams were going for the win. You could see by the changes we made. We took a wing back-off and put a winger on to try and get as many forward players on the pitch as we could."
Armenia: Chancharevich (6), Calisir (6), Haroyan (7), Iwu (6), Spertsyan (7), Zelarayan (8), Ranos (6), Bichakhchyan (7), Dashyan (6), Tiknizyan (7), Arutiunian (6).
Subs: Sevikyan (7), Miranyan (6), Harutyunyan (6)
Wales: Ward (7), N. Williams (7), Davies (6), Mepham (6), Rodon (7), J. James (6), Brooks (6), Ampadu (6), Roberts (7), Wilson (5), Moore (6).
Subs: Johnson (5), D. James (6), Broadhead (n/a)
Player of the match: Lucas Zelarayan.
Wales knew two closing victories would see them secure qualification for a fourth tournament out of five. Dropped points would need them relying on favourable results elsewhere and the prospect of avoiding the play-offs in March where the likes of Norway, Poland and Ukraine could be lurking.
Armenia - ranked 95 in the world and 67 places below Wales - showed nine survivors from the team who had won in Cardiff in June, including Grant-Leon Ranos and Zelarayan who both scored twice then.
The hosts made the perfect start when Zelarayan pounced on a poor headed clearance from Joe Rodon to fire past Ward inside five minutes.
Welsh frustrations would grow. Chris Mepham was walking disciplinary tightropes in Armenia, but the defender was booked for a needless foul which means he will miss the game against Turkey on Tuesday.
Rob Page watched his side create chances as Harry Wilson shot from Neco Williams' pass was tipped expertly around the post by Ognjen Cancarevic. It looked as though Wales would trail at the break, but in stoppage time they would gleefully accept Tiknizyan's gift.
Roberts' long throw was hurled towards Rodon but it was the Armenia defender who flicked the ball past the hapless Cancarevic to breathe life into the visitors.
Brennan Johnson replaced Brooks within three minutes of the restart and the contest was developing a spicy edge with Varazdat Haroyan cautioned for chopping down Wilson and Ethan Ampadu similarly punished for his reaction to the challenge.
Armenia went mightily close as Vahan Bichakhchyan's chip drifted over the head of Ward and onto the crossbar.
The crowd held its breath as Zelarayan seemed certain to bury the rebound but instead the game's best player sliced it over.
Armenia were slowly turning the screw, but Cancarevic was tested from outside the box by Jordan James and needed a second attempt to gather.
Eduard Spertsyan had a clear sight of goal before being denied by one of an increasing number of last-gasp Welsh blocks.
Moore's header was held by Cancarevic and in a frantic finale Ward produced a flying stop to deny substitute Edgar Sevikyan, who later shot wide with the goal at his mercy.
Having dropped points to remove automatic qualification from their own hands, manager Page said: "There's a disappointed group in there, but we've got to pick ourselves up and finish on a high on Tuesday.
"Unfortunately it's now out of our control. With a win, we'd all have been buzzing and looking forward to the game on Tuesday, and a win would have seen us qualify.
"It's not materialised as we'd like, but that's life and we have to get on with it. It's about building momentum and, if it's a play-off in March, it's a play-off in March.
"If results go for us, we've still got an opportunity to qualify (automatically). We can only control what we can do, get the players in the right frame of mind, mentally and physically ready for Tuesday."
Sky Sports News' Geraint Hughes in Yerevan:
"It's not very often you several players from both sides on the floor, on their knees at the end of a game.
"Result not good for either side, but that last 10-15 minutes is one of the more extraordinary you'll witness. Lung sapping and hard on the nerves!
"Everything was last ditch, control and composure went out of the window. Wales players go and thank their fans, I'm not sure they've the energy to clap for too long.
"Have Wales blown their chance? They need a favour from Armenia."
Former Wales international Robert Earnshaw on Soccer Saturday:
"To be honest, Wales are pretty much in the play-offs because of their Nations League qualifying, but you expect Croatia to beat Latvia. Wales had to win this game and now it is all in Croatia's hands.
"It's devastating for Wales. This was the tricky one, Armenia have beaten Wales 4-2 and they've now drawn. Those points would have qualified Wales for the Euros.
"Wales were poor when attacking, even if they played well in general. But it was an excellent game. End-to-end stuff, full of action and tension. The Armenia coach was even on the floor at one point!"
Sky Sports' Ben Grounds:
"Page couldn't put his finger on it. Sublime against Croatia, and then pretty scruffy against Armenia - ranked 95 in the world and 67 places below. Inconsistency has been at the heart of Wales' problems in booking their place at Euro 2024.
"His side had a score to settle after the humiliating 4-2 defeat in Cardiff five months ago, a result which left them playing catch-up in the race for the tournament in Germany next summer.
"Page had to turn the tide of history as Wales had never beaten their opponents in three previous meetings, but they fell short in their mission to obtain maximum points.
"In fairness, Armenia really ought to have won this contest late on as Danny Ward had his crossbar rattled and the ball flew inches off target as Wales went for broke.
"The visitors faded and were fortunate to take a point, which helps neither side as far as joining Turkey in the top two is concerned.
"Page couldn't fault the commitment of his players, but the required quality was missing. The play-offs in March beckon."
Armenia's final Euro 2024 Qualifier is away to Croatia on Tuesday - kick-off 7.45pm.
Wales wrap up their Euro 2024 Qualifying campaign against Turkey at the Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday - kick-off 7.45pm.