Dan James scored a crucial equaliser for Wales in a 2-2 World Cup Qualification draw with Czech Republic to spare the blushes of goalkeeper Danny Ward.
In a game that was being billed as the play-off for second place in Group E with both teams level on points, Wales played bravely in Prague and got a deserved lead through skipper Aaron Ramsey on 36 minutes.
However, a defensive lapse just 106 seconds later allowed Jakub Pešek to draw the hosts level when firing home a rebound after a Ward save.
Ward was left even more red-faced four minutes after the restart after miscontrolling Ramsey’s backpass and getting the final touch on the Czechs’ second goal.
However, James secured the point Wales more than deserved in a thrilling contest.
The draw leaves Wales and the Czech Republic locked on eight points behind runaway group leaders Belgium – and the Dragons still have a game in hand on their rivals.
Czech Republic: Vaclik (6), Mateju (6), Kalas (6), Celustka (7), Novak (6), Král (6), Soucek (6), Pesek (7), Barak (6), Hlozek (6), Schick (7)
Subs: Vydra (6), Kuchta (6), Wiesner (6), Sadílek (6)
Wales: Ward (4), Gunter (6), Ampadu (6), Rodon (7), Mepham (7), Williams (6), Morrell (6), Allen (7), James (8), Ramsey (8), Moore (6)
Subs: Wilson (8), Thomas (7), Roberts (6)
Man of the Match: Aaron Ramsey
Even if they finish outside of the top two in Group E, Wales are all but guaranteed a play-off place thanks to their Nations League success.
How bright and bubbly Wales shone in Prague…
Wales had beaten the Czechs at home in March to strike a blow in the battle for second place, and knew that defeat in Prague would probably leave them relying on their 2020 Nations League results for a place in March’s World Cup play-offs.
- Patrick Schick was available after serving a two-game ban in Group E following his red card in Cardiff in the match between these two. Fenerbahçe left-back Filip Novák returned to the international action after 12 months out of the side. Aleš Matějů took the place of West Ham full-back Vladimir Coufal but his teammate Tomas Soucek started and captained the team.
- Wales played a back five with Neco Williams starting down the left. With no Gareth Bale, Wales went with Kieffer Moore through the middle with Dan James and the returning Aaron Ramsey supporting.
The Wales players made their usual pre-match stand against racism by taking the knee and were roundly booed by home fans.
Ramsey made his presence instantly felt by clattering into Novak after 13 seconds to earn a yellow card.
Wales escaped when Ward pushed out Pesek’s low drive and Neco Williams completed the clearance, but they – and Ramsey in particular – continually probed and threatened throughout an entertaining first half.
A mix-up in the home defence allowed James to advance before skying wide and an even better chance arrived after 18 minutes when Ramsey released James, who dithered before finding Kieffer Moore. The striker was still favourite to beat the onrushing Vaclik but failed to do so.
Patrik Schick’s deflected effort looped over the bar before Wales scored from the resulting Czech Republic corner.
Ethan Ampadu led a rapid break and Williams played his cross into a dangerous area. James failed to get a touch on the ball, but Ramsey was racing in behind and he sat down Vaclik superbly before tucking away his 18th international goal.
The lead lasted barely more than a minute as Novak broke beyond the Wales defence and Ward pushed out a shot that might have been straying wide.
Williams slipped at the wrong moment and Pesek pounced in front of a gaping goal.
Worse was to come for Ward with his loss of concentration ending up with him touching the ball onto the post. The Leicester goalkeeper desperately tried to retrieve the situation but both he and the ball ended up in the back of the net.
Wales responded excellently to the hugely unfortunate moment with the substitution of Harry Wilson coming on in midfield shifting the momentum back in their favour.
Wilson capped a superb cameo from the bench when slipping in James and his excellent lofted finish beat Vaclik and survived a VAR review.
Moore and Ramsey almost won it for Wales late on, but a furious contest ended all square with the race for second place set to go down to the wire.
- Ward’s own goal was the first by a Wales player since June 2019, when James Lawrence put the ball in his own net against Croatia in a European Championship qualifier.
- James scored for the first time in eight appearances for Wales, with his previous goal for the national team also coming against Czech Republic in March. It was the first of his five goals for Wales to be scored away from the Cardiff City Stadium, while only Kieffer Moore (6) has scored more goals for Wales since James made his debut in November 2018.
- It took only 30 seconds for Wales midfielder Ramsey to be shown a yellow card, the earliest booking for any European player during qualification for the 2022 World Cup – he committed the foul just 13 seconds into the game.
Wales visit Estonoa in their next World Cup Qualifier on Monday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off at 7.45pm.