Wales will have to rise again for Sunday’s crucial World Cup play-off final after kicking off their Nations League campaign with a 2-1 defeat in Poland.
Jonny Williams’ astonishing second-half goal gave Wales hope of securing their first win over Poland in 49 years, but Thomas Kaminski’s equalizer and Karol Swiderski’s winner turned the tide in the Last 18 minutes.
With a career-defining showdown against Scotland or Ukraine looming, Rob Page omitted Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies from the matchday squad in Wroclaw and the trio watched as a changing Wales produced a rousing display that fell short.
But there were positives in the Wales defeat – namely keeping Polish danger Robert Lewandowski quiet for the duration – and these will have to be remembered ahead of their return to Cardiff, where they are seeking a place in the Qatar 2022, and their first World Cup Finals since 1958.
Wales denied Poland’s rare late win
Wales boss Robert Page has admitted his squad selection for their Nations League opener was influenced by the weekend’s World Cup play-off final.
“I didn’t leave anyone out because there were injury issues,” he said. “I left the players I eliminated only because we have the game on Sunday.
“There was a group training today and I had already planned the substitutions before the game. The plan was already in place. I didn’t need to risk Aaron, Gareth, Ben, Joe, he there was no advantage to it.
“They did a controlled session, which they need, to get them ready for Sunday. I made sure they were in the dressing room. They have a huge influence on this group and I wanted them there.
“Even at half-time I wanted them to be a part of it and they were the first through the door at the end.”
It was Wales’ first game in the Nations League top flight after promotion two years ago.
Belgium and the Netherlands complete the group, and Page was delighted his side faced Poland just four days before the World Cup fate date in Cardiff.
Poland should have taken the lead in the fourth minute when Mateusz Klich’s cross found Napoli midfielder Piotr Zielinski unmarked in the Wales box but he inexcusably sent a golden-headed chance away of the target.
Wales took full advantage of their reprieve in an open and entertaining first half, with Dylan Levitt’s hoarse drive forcing an early save from Polish keeper Kamil Grabara and the snappy Wes Burns sending a deflected volley wide, either side of Robert Lewandowski forcing a save from the legs of Welsh stopper Danny Ward.
Both teams squandered chances to take the lead before the break, with Daniel James trailing wide after doing all the hard work to burst into the Polish area, before Adam Buksa was inches away from bringing in Tymoteusz Puchacz’s cross home on the stretch.
With an eye on Sunday, Page pulled James and Kieffer Moore off in the interval for Mark Harris and Rabbi Motodo, who nearly grabbed his first international goal within four minutes of being on the pitch to see his low-drive cannon on Grabara’s legs.
Wales made the breakthrough in the 52nd minute when Williams’ superb effort from the edge of the box dove into the far corner and left goalkeeper Grabara and the Wroclaw crowd stunned, but retaining their advantage continued. turned out to be too much of a task for the visitors.
After Lewandowski trailed a rare wide shot, Kaminski showed his illustrious teammate how to finish, capitalizing on the tentative Welsh defense to launch a low, clean drive into the far corner.
There was only one winner from then on as the Polish crowd roared on their side until a thrilling finish, which came when Swiderski sent the ball towards the Welsh goal and, despite the Chris Mepham’s best efforts on the goal line, found the late winner. .
Matt Smith made a presentable effort in stoppage time as Wales missed the chance to snatch a late point but there was little time to dwell on it with Sunday’s epic play-off now firmly in focus.
What the managers said…
Boss of Wales Rob Page said, “”It’s like we wanted it. We wanted this luminaire first. It gave us the opportunity to give DJ (Daniel James) a few minutes – he wanted to play – Kieffer (Moore) needed a few minutes, and Neco Williams.
“It was a productive exercise. We knew it was going to be a battle, but I couldn’t be more proud of these players. They were a strong Polish team, it was their best XI available to them.
“If you’re going to lose a game of football, lose it this way. We took the lead and I thought we deserved a point. The second goal was scrappy; it took two deflections, it comes down to him four yards out, Of course he will score.
“There are small adjustments we can make to prevent him from getting into that position, but I think we played some good football.
“People like Matty Smith, who doesn’t play football week in and week out, gave a performance like that and I could go through them all. Dylan Levitt, Joe Morrell, Wes Burns, that was his debut, I thought he was exceptional.
“It was great for Joniesta (Jonny Williams) to also score his goal, there were a lot of positives.”
Coming so close to Wales’ first World Cup in 64 years, Page said: “We’ll get to work straight away. We’ll be in the boardroom (Thursday), going through it and formulating a plan to go make history.”
Patron of Poland Czeslaw Michniewicz said: “The formation of the opponent was different. They had defenders on both sides of the pitch and played quite quickly.
“The Welsh players kept the ball for a long time, so we had to change form. Three points won’t be enough (in this group). The last game will be against Wales again and they will play with their optimal team.”
Wales unable to crack Poland’s code – Opta Statistics
- Poland have won their last five matches against Wales in all competitions, with Wales losing five or more in a row against a single opponent for the first time since they did so against England between October 2004 and October 2020 (6).
- Wales scored for the first time in an away game against Poland, although they remain winless in all five such fixtures on Polish soil (D2 L3).
- Poland have won only their third game in the UEFA Nations League (D3 L5), with Wales only the second team beaten in the competition, having beaten Bosnia and Herzegovina home and away in 2020.
- Wales lost a match where they opened the scoring for the first time since March 2021 against Belgium (1-3).
Wales host Scotland or Ukraine in their World Cup qualifying play-off final on Sunday at 5pm – live on Sky Sports.
The resumption of the Nations League sees Wales host the Netherlands and Poland travel to Belgium on Wednesday at 7.45pm.