Wales and Ireland’s all-or-nothing World Cup qualifier last night was one of the most emotionally charged international clashes we’ve seen on British shores for some time. The sheer force behind the acapella version of the Welsh national anthem was telling enough of what was on the line – both sides needing a win to advance to the playoff stages in a straight-up shootout.
It had the feeling of a one-off cup final but the Dragons entered the encounter one notable man light, with talismanic forward Gareth Bale, who had already scored four times in qualifying, absent through injury. The Real Madrid star had to settle for watching from the stands.
Before kickoff, many looked to Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey – Wales’ second-biggest talent – to fill Bale’s almighty void. And although the Gunners midfielder certainly didn’t let his country down last night, he eventually fell short of that challenge.
In fairness, Ramsey can’t be expected to do it all on his own and his job became even harder when Joe Allen was forced off through injury in the first half, meaning the 26-year-old was pushed into a deeper midfield role.
Despite this, he was still the biggest threat to Darren Randolph conceding, taking four efforts at goal, laying on three chances for his team-mates and launching ten crosses into the box. But it just wasn’t enough to replicate the talismanic effect Bale has on the Welsh national team by getting Chris Coleman’s side over the line.
Arsenal fans will be hoping Ramsey can overcome his Monday night heartbreak by the weekend, when Arsene Wenger’s boys travel to Vicarage Road to face Watford in the Premier League.