James McClean sends Ireland into play-offs and breaks Welsh hearts.

James McClean sends Ireland into play-offs and breaks Welsh hearts.
Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images.
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Republic of Ireland
Wales: (4-4-1-1) Hennessey; Gunter, A. Williams, Chester, Davies; King (Woodburn 65'), Allen (J. Williams 36'), Ledley, Lawrence; Ramsey; Robson-Kanu (Vokes 71').
Republic of Ireland: (4-3-3) Randolph; Christie, Duffy, Clark, Ward; Arter (Whelan 78'), Meyler, Hendrick; McClean, Murphy (K. Long 90+2'), Brady.
SCORE: 0-1, McClean 57'.
REFEREE: Damir Skomina (SVN). Booked: Allen (16'), Murphy (72'), Clark (79'), Randolph (89'), McClean (90+2'), Meyler (90+6').
INCIDENTS: 2018 FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group D match at the Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff.

On that note, I will leave it for this evening. Good night.

So of the five home nations, England will be at the World Cup, whilst both the Republic and Northern Ireland will be in the play-offs. They will both be unseeded so no prospect of them meeting. Scotland and Wales will be at home next summer.

It could be the end of the road for Coleman, who has previously said he would quit at the end of the World Cup campaign. He would have hoped that would be next summer, but he will always have the memories for France last year. He has done an amazing job with this team, picking them up after the tragic death of Gary Speed and taking them to the next level.

For Wales, the post-mortem will begin. The fact that they expected to be in with a shout though reflects on how far they've come in the last few years. However dropped points earlier in the campaign, plus the absence of Bale tonight, probably cost them in the end.

O'Neill and Roy Keane will now lead Ireland into the play-offs next month. The draw for those is next Tuesday. Croatia beat Ukraine so they will be there as well.

An epic battle, a physical battle. Wales perhaps played the more progressive football but Ireland defended with their lives and McClean scored the goal to send them into the play-offs. More heartache for Wales. The 60-year wait to reach a World Cup will go on.


90+6: Meyler needlessly fouls Hennessey up the field. He will miss the first leg of the play-off as a result.

90+5: Another bad challenge from McClean on Jonny Williams. Skomina decides against showing him another yellow card.

90+4: Ramsey shot saved. It's not going to happen.

Elsewhere, Serbia and Iceland have booked their places in Russia.

90+2: McClean puts a boot into Ramsey's stomach. A clear yellow.

90+1: Five minutes added on. It won't be enough for Wales. Murphy meanwhile is making way for Kevin Long.

89: A Ramsey corner cleared. It falls to Gunter, shot blocked. Meyler has been immense. Randolph then receives a yellow for time wasting.

88: Ledley cross in but Jonny Williams's header is blocked.

87: Duffy heads away another Welsh corner, before doing likewise with a follow-up ball into the box. It's difficult to see Wales breaching this Irish defence.

85: The ball falls to Jonny Williams but he can't direct his shot. Ireland fail to clear but Wales can't do anything else before Ward wins a free-kick off Gunter.

84: Ramsey takes it. Well over the bar.

83: Duffy concedes a free-kick after using Vokes as a launchpad.

81: Great ball into the box from Woodburn. Vokes not close enough to it to put in and Randolph can grab it low down.

79: Jonny Williams fouls Meyler, but then Clark earns himself a yellow card, presumably for time wasting.

78: Arter gets some treatment for some injury, and makes way for Glenn Whelan. However the fourth official kicks up a fuss and they have to wait a few moments to make the change.

75: Lawrence puts a ball into the box, off an Irish head and Randolph struggles to hold but eventually does.

74: Woodburn goes down in the box, maybe some contact from Brady but the free kick goes the other way.

Serbia have scored as well. They will be topping the group for definate as it stands.

72: Ramsey with a high foot on Murphy who then puts his arm into Ramsey's face. The Irish man gets the second yellow card of the night.

Kramari? has scored again for Croatia. Wales definitely have to win now.

71: More good play from Wales. Gunter crosses to Lawrence who plays it back to Ramsey. The Arsenal midfielder puts it over. Vokes comes on for Robson-Kanu.

70: A delay as Hendrick gets treatment for an injury - real or otherwise. Wales meanwhile making their final change - Vokes will be coming on eventually.

69: Wales trying to build something up. Ramsey eventually puts it into the box and to Robson-Kanu, but the header goes straight up and over.

Going back to that Croatia goal (scored by Andrej Kramari? by the way) - I think it means Wales now need two to make the play-offs.

65: Here comes Woodburn. King makes way.

64: Davies recovers quickly and gets a shot down the other end, it's blocked by Duffy though and Randolph collects the loose ball.

Croatia have scored in Kiev! It matters little to Ireland though as they would already have a better record then Slovakia.

63: Corner comes to little, play then stops as Davies takes a blow.

62: Murphy charges forward, but Ashley Williams get a touch as he reaches the box. Ireland corner.

60: Wales try to build down the right but Jonny Williams loses it under pressure from Arter. Ben Woodburn getting ready to come on.

As it stands, it's Ireland going through to the play-offs. This is the first time Wales have been behind in the campaign as well.

57: Just as Wales were trying to turn the screw. Ashley Williams guilty of giving the ball away. Hendrick takes it, crosses in, through several bodies but McClean picks up and fires in! Ireland 1-0 up.


56: The noise in the ground has gone up an extra notch since that.

53: Possibly the biggest chance yet! Jonny Williams finds Robson-Kanu with his cross, the striker heads towards goal and Randolph makes a big save to put it over.

51: Good play for Wales earns them a corner. Chester gets his head to it and it ripples the side netting. Close!

49: Cagey again so far.

46: The second half is underway in Cardiff.

With Iceland winning, that would mean they are set to book their World Cup place tonight as winners of Group I. Their incredible fairytale looks set to have another chapter in Russia next year.

No further goals elsewhere, meaning that as it stands Wales are in the play-offs. But with goals only in two matches so far, maybe all the drama is being saved for later.

Wales just edging it so far but Ireland have had their brighter moments too. All still very tense though at the break.

HALF TIME. Wales 0-0 Republic of Ireland.

45+2: Brady with the ball on the right of the box, comes inside but the shot is easily taken by Hennessey.

45Daryl Murphy wins a free-kick following a foul from Ashley Williams. Brady whips in but Hennessey grabs it. Two minutes added on.

44: Closing in on half-time. Can either side create any more chances before then?

We have goals elsewhere!! Not in any of the games that affect this one though. Iceland lead Kosovo whilst Macedonia have snatched two against Liechtenstein.

39: Ledley's corner sails to Davies at the far side of the box - no conviction in the shot and it goes out.

38: Lawrence gets the ball to King, but Ward deals with him. Clark just after clears the ball for a corner as Wales try to pounce again.

37: On comes Williams - his first appearance since the Euro 2016 semi-final against Portugal.

36Jonny Williams will be coming on. Not too much action on the pitch at the moment.

34: It looked innocuous, but the physios are indicating Allen will have to be replaced. Play resumes with Wales down to 10.

32: McClean barges into Allen, with Meyler getting caught up in it too. The Stoke City man needs a little bit of treatment after that.

31: Wales struggle to clear another Irish set piece - Shane Duffy gets the chance to strike but it goes across goal and wide.

30: Another tackle flying in, Gunter penalised, which upsets Robson-Kanu after he was brought down moments earlier without the referee blowing his whistle.

That would suit Wales just fine, incidentally.

There's eight other qualifiers taking place right now. There's not been a goal in any of them.

27Cyrus Christie fouls Andy King out on the left. Ramsey's free-kick start at Randolph.

25: Chance for Tom Lawrence who finds himself in space. A little way out, but he hits the target - and also shoots right at Randolph.

23: A Republic throw causes some mild chaos in the Welsh box. Hendrick gets a shot in amongst it all, but it's blocked.

21: Ciaran Clark heads out the first corner, the second played short but Ramsey's cross is then taken by Randolph.

20: From a Wales throw, Robson-Kanu finds Allen. He has a crack and gets a corner for his troubles.

18: Brady's corner misses pretty much everyone. It falls to Jeff Hendrick who blasts over. Ben Davies later fouled by Brady, a free-kick but no yellow.

17: No immediate threat from the resulting free-kick, but it falls to McClean and it's a very good cross that is put out by Ashley Williams.

16: The first booking of the evening. Allen goes for the call but ends up kicking Meyler. As I already mentioned, he's not one of the players already on a booking.

14: Wales with another good spell of possession, forcing Stephan Ward to boot the ball out for a corner. Randolph catches it.

No goals in those vital games in Serbia and Ukraine either yet.

9: Ireland get forward for the first time, but a cross from the right has too much on it.

8: More good lay from Wales. Allen is fouled, the referee plays the advantage and Aaron Ramsey fires on goal. Darren Randolph gets a touch on it, but the Welsh can't make the most of the corner.

6: Wales dominating the play so far.

3Joe Ledley's corner finds Robson-Kanu, who heads out. It's a goal kick although it might have touched an Irish player last.

2David Meyler heads out a Gunter cross to give Wales the first corner of the match.

1: We're underway.

Incredibly, eight of the Wales starting line-up are on yellow cards, and would miss a possible play-off first leg if booked - Wayne Hennessey, Chris Gunter and Joe Allen are the only players without a card hanging over them. Five players in similar peril for Ireland.

And that is what they do. Powerful stuff. If that doesn't inspire Wales, nothing will.

"Sing it like you've never sung it before" calls the stadium announcer.

The players are in the tunnel. It's almost time. The anthems should be interesting - the music will be cutting out on the Welsh one, at the request of the team, to let the crowd sing it alone. It should be pretty special. They're on their way out now.

Wales of course are looking to reach a first World Cup since 1958, whilst Ireland have been absent from football's biggest stage since 2002. After reaching the Euros last year, both would like another taste of top-level international football.

As I suggested earlier, Coleman has decided to make one change to his Welsh side by bringing in Robson-Kanu up front. McClean and Brady both start too as expected, with Harry Arter also starting. Hoolahan and O’Dowda drop to the bench, with Long injured.

Republic of Ireland: (4-3-3) Randolph; Christie, Duffy, Clark, Ward; Arter, Meyler, Hendrick; McClean, Murphy, Brady.

Wales: (4-1-4-1) Hennessey; Gunter, Williams, Chester, Davies; Allen; King, Ramsey, Lawrence, Ledley; Robson-Kanu.

The teams are in, and are as follows.

Breaking news this lunchtime - Shane Long has been ruled out for Ireland due to a hip injury. He was guilty of several missed opportunities against Moldova but his absence could be keenly felt by them this evening.

That is all for now. I’ll be back ahead of kick-off with the confirmed line-ups and more build-up to this huge game.

The referee tonight is Damir Skomina, who like all of his assistants is from Slovenia. He was in charge for Wales’s famous victory over Belgium in the quarter-finals of UEFA Euro 2016, and he also oversaw the Republic’s 1-1 draw against Germany in October 2014.

Wales could well be unchanged from their win in Georgia – unless Chris Coleman decides to play Hal Robson-Kanu ahead of Sam Vokes up front – but O’Neill has both James McClean and Robbie Brady available again after they missed the Moldova match with suspensions. McClean will likely replace Callum O'Dowda whilst Brady could come in for Wes Hoolahan.

Coleman joined his international teammates in Cardiff on Sunday, and manager Martin O’Neill admitted that he would be “very much to the forefront of our minds” when they take the field on Monday night.

As for the team news, neither side suffered any casualties from their games on Friday. Wales though are of course without Gareth Bale, whilst Seamus Coleman, whose leg was broken by Neil Taylor in the goalless draw in Dublin in March, is obviously still out for the Irish.

I hope that makes sense.

If Croatia/Ukraine score the same or less goals than Wales/Ireland, then Wales would make it. If they scored one more, then it would go down to fair play, which Croatia currently have the edge on, but if Wales and Croatia were level on that regard too, it goes down to the fabled drawing of lots. If there are two more goals each (i.e. 2-2 in Kiev, 0-0 in Cardiff), then Croatia make the play-offs.

If there’s a draw this evening and Serbia don’t fall to that kind of defeat to Georgia, Wales would finish second and would be left sweating on the result in Kiev between Ukraine and Croatia, who are level on points in Group I. A winner in that game would most likely knock Wales out. If there’s a draw there as well, it gets more complicated.

That is unless of course Serbia slip up – a winner in Cardiff would qualify automatically if Serbia lost, and Wales would finish top if they won and Serbia drew; an Ireland win in that situation would probably still see them finish second due to goal difference. If there’s a draw and Serbia lose by two goals or more, Wales would top the group.

All that means that if there is a winner between Wales and Ireland this evening, they will finish in the top two and will also qualify for the play-offs.

As for the table to determine the eight best-placed second place teams (which discounts result against the side finishing bottom) and thus who plays in the play-offs, Wales are currently ahead only of Croatia, and only be virtue of having scored one more goal. They are a point behind Slovakia, the lowest ranked runner-up to have played all ten matches.

First, here is exactly how the group stands before this evening’s matches. Ahead of their game at home to Georgia, Serbia are top with 18 points. Wales are second with 17 points, and Ireland are a place and a point further back with 16.

Whilst the permutations aren’t all entirely clear, one thing is – only one of these sides can finish inside the top two of Group D, giving this match huge ramifications.

Hello and welcome to VAVEL UK’s live coverage of a truly massive game in qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, as Wales and the Republic of Ireland do battle in Cardiff. I’m James Rees and I will talk you through tonight’s action.