The stage could not have been more perfectly set in the final stretch of European World Cup Qualifying, with a rivalry match in Cardiff between Ireland and the Gareth Bale-less Wales squad turning into a loser-goes-home affair. As group-leaders Serbia faced an easy opponent in Georgia, it was on each of these squads to secure a result and stay alive by finishing second in the group.
West Bromwich Albion’s James McClean, who represented Northern Ireland as a junior player, assured survival for his adopted Republic of Ireland team. In the 57th minute, Jeff Hendrick forced a turnover, then took the ball into the corner and placed a pass into the box that was perfectly primed for McClean’s right foot.
Ireland haven’t qualified for a World Cup since 2002, while Wales have only been once, back in 1958. The goal from McClean gave Wales its first defeat in qualifying, and it absolutely decimates what may have been the best Welsh squad ever. Instead, Ireland move onto the second round of qualifying, where they’ll play one of seven other second-place group teams in a two-leg playoff.