There would be no joyous World Cup broadcast for Wales, as Karol Swiderski’s second half goal meant Rob Page’s team joined England and were relegated from the top tier of Europe.
Wales will stand alongside Gareth Southgate’s men in Nations League B for the next edition of the tournament. Wales needed a win to stay in League A and were denied early in the second half by Karol Swiderski’s excellent goal – a rare moment of class in a poor game. The home side came closest when Gareth Bale’s header hit the crossbar in stoppage time.
Wales’ campaign was complicated by their World Cup play-off against Ukraine, which fell during their Nations League matches. Page was understandably keen to keep his best players for that game and his decision was justified by the 1-0 win.
But the parties of the second series could not achieve the required results and two defeats against the Poles proved decisive. Wales have now played five games without a win – hardly the build-up they were looking for as they prepare for their first World Cup since 1958 and only the second in their history.
Bale completed 90 minutes for the first time in over a year, but the skipper played a calm game and still looks far below his sharpest. Wales must hope to win it in the next two months if he plays for Los Angeles FC in Major League Soccer.
Whatever has happened here, Wales fans know that the truly exciting football is yet to come. In two months they will open their World Cup campaign against the United States, for their second game against Iran and a ‘Battle of Britain’ against England on November 29.
Their qualification for Qatar is testament to Page’s excellent work, despite their recent run. They missed key men here, with Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Harry Wilson injured and Chris Mepham and Ethan Ampadu suspended. And to put their performance into context, how about this for a statistic: The last goal Wales allowed in the World Cup final was scored by a 17-year-old Pele, with his first international goal.
Bale was included from the start and in the Polish team was Robert Lewandowski, one of Europe’s greatest strikers of the past decade.
Despite their presence, it was a formless first half that stood out for moments of farce rather than quality.
The first was when Bale’s hairband came loose and the next minute he tried to reattach it while at the same time trying to close the defenders of Poland. How the home crowd chuckled at that, though they didn’t laugh when Wayne Hennessey nearly scored a ridiculous own goal five minutes before half time.
The goalkeeper moved to check Joe Rodon’s back pass, but kept his eye off the ball, which moved with its studs and rolled back to the goal line. Hennessey recovered just in time and was clearly shocked moments later when he nearly made a hash of Piotr Zielinski’s increasing effort.
Previously, Connor Roberts and Nicola Zalewski had been engaged in an ongoing battle along the right side of Wales, with Poland angry at Roberts’ physical approach, and Roberts convinced the Roma player wanted to get him off the pitch.
Fans had to wait 25 minutes for the first free chance. Jakub Kiwior should have done better from a Zielinski free kick, but headed a free header straight to Hennessey. Then, shortly after the half hour, Dan James ran on Ben Cabango’s hopeful forward ball and was twice denied by former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
The game started to open up a bit and Szczesny again saved his team after Poland fell asleep on a throw-in and found Roberts Bale unmarked. Just after Hennessey’s blunder, Brennan Johnson cut in from the right and fired at target, only for his shot to clip James and go behind.
Lewandowski had had a frustrating evening, but he showed his class in one of the game’s few high-quality moments. Szymon Zurkowski, who had failed to make the most of a good chance in the first half, shot a ball into his path and with his back to goal, Lewandowski delicately guided the ball to the left.
It was perfectly placed to meet Swiderski’s run, who steered it confidently under Hennessey. The rowdy away supporters greeted the goal by lighting flares and setting off fireworks, likely to result in a UEFA penalty.
Wales tried to react immediately and almost did as Johnson worked from a corner firing position, forcing Szczesny to make another important stop. After the goal, Wales sent Kieffer Moore out to bolster the attack and switched to a back four, but the action couldn’t save them.
Szczesny played an excellent game in goal and produced another fine stop with 13 minutes to go from James’ misdirected cross, which misled Poland’s back line and almost got into the far corner. Wales pushed on as the game progressed, almost equalizing in the closing seconds when substitute Sorba Thomas crossed in front of Bale to plant a header against the woodwork.
Scroll down to see how it all went with Sportsmail’s live runner.