By Rich Jones at the Cardiff City Stadium
Wales suffered FIFA World Cup heartache with a 1-0 defeat against the Republic of Ireland at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Chris Coleman’s side went into their final qualifier knowing a victory would secure them at least a play-off place and keep their hopes of reaching Russia next year alive.
But their date with destiny was ruined by a James McClean strike which saw their neighbours snatch second in the group and extend their own campaign.
It means Wales’ agonising wait to reach a World Cup tournament will now extend to over six decades having reached the showpiece competition only once, way back in 1958.
“We just came up a bit short tonight, in all honesty,” manager Coleman said.
“I think we needed that first goal, and it went to the Republic (of Ireland), then we got a bit frustrated.
“We obviously missed Joe Allen, who is pivotal to us and how we played. It affected us a bit when he went off.
“There just wasn’t quite enough tonight, certainly in terms of our imagination and creating offensively.
“You’ve got to give Martin O’Neill a huge pat on back. Republic of Ireland had game plan, they saw it out and did what they wanted.
“It’s a shame for us and a hard one for us, but no complaints. It is what it is. It’s our first defeat in four years here.
“It’s another campaign where we’ve taken it all the way, and that’s all you can ask for. You just want a little bit more luck, and tonight we didn’t get that.
“The goal was a bit of a sucker punch. All due respects to Republic (of Ireland), but maybe a mistake from us was going to let them in and unfortunately it came.
“In 90+ minutes you’ve got plenty of time to get a goal, but we never really looked like getting one. We lacked that imagination and spark in final third.
“Once we started knocking it long, Republic of Ireland enjoyed that and we never looked like scoring. We were huffing and puffing on second balls, but that’s not our game.
“We never lacked endeavour, never lacked passion – we just couldn’t break them down. That all-important first goal went to them which made the difference.
“It was a good, typical game of football from a bunch of players who know each other. There’s no complaints about the opposition, their players or the physicality of it.
“Good luck to them, they’ve won it and I hope they go on to qualify.”
Wales had the better of the early exchanges, with Hal Robson-Kanu lively after being called up to the starting XI in the only change from Friday’s win in Georgia.
But they could not find a way through the organised Irish defence, and they were dealt a significant blow when Joe Allen was withdrawn after a nasty collision with David Meyler and McClean after just half an hour.
The sides went into the break goalless, before Wales came within a whisker of taking the lead as a powerful Robson-Kanu header was expertly tipped over the bar by Darren Randolph.
Just moments later, they were left ruing a lapse in concentration as Ashley Williams gave the ball away out wide and a Jeff Hendricks cross was rifled home by the incoming McClean from eight yards out.
From that point on the Irish were perfectly happy to just soak up pressure and keep the Welsh at bay, with Coleman’s side struggling to create any clear cut chances as their dreams fizzled out.
It was a disheartening evening for the Welsh, but one of celebration for the army of Irish fans who travelled over to the capital and generated a remarkable atmosphere on a night which will certainly live long in the memory for both sets of supporters, albeit for different reasons.