The wait is over as Wales and Ukraine aim to defy history

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For Wales, the wait is almost over.

After a delay of more than two months due to the horrific events that have unfolded in Ukraine, Wales are finally getting a chance to end their long wait for a place at the World Cup.

With their opponents now known after Ukraine’s impressive victory over Scotland in midweek, the Dragons’ fateful deal finally arrives in Cardiff this Sunday.

And after a wait of about six and a half decades since last appearing at the biggest football tournament of them all, the excitement could not be higher.

If Wales are to jump the last hurdle and get to Qatar 2022, however, they must do something that no side has achieved since Croatia in October 2017 – to beat Ukraine in a qualifier.

Ukraine have proven their determination in more ways than one, and now, spurred on by most of the world, Oleksandr Petrakov’s fighters are potentially 90 minutes from the World Cup.

Stats Perform looks at how both sides are shaping up ahead of the showdown at Cardiff City Stadium.

QUALIFYING RECORDS

While Wales have enjoyed running to the semi-finals and the last 16 of the last two European Championships, they have not competed on the biggest stage of them all since 1958.

Should they reach Qatar 2022, this distance of 64 years would surpass the record jointly of Egypt and Norway of 56 years between tournament entries.

To put into context how long since Wales’ only previous World Cup play-off was, Brazil’s big Pele scored the only goal against them in that year’s quarter-final.

With his 17 years and 239 days, he still holds the record as the tournament’s youngest goal scorer ever.

Ukraine itself has participated in the World Cup only once, although they have only had six previous attempts to qualify as an independent nation.

The Eastern European country reached the quarterfinals in Germany 16 years ago, where they were beaten 3-0 by the final winners Italy.

Like their opponents Wales, they have twice qualified for the European Championships, as well as gaining direct access to the tournament as joint hosts with Poland in 2012.

PREVIOUS MEETINGS

The pedigree of the two teams is quite similar, and so is their record against each other over the years.

Only three times have they previously met each other, with two of them finishing completely in place in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, and Ukraine winning the other 1-0 in a friendly match before Euro 2016.

Incidentally, current Wales boss Rob Page played a full 90 minutes in Ukraine’s only previous outing on Welsh soil, where that competition ended in a 1-1 draw 20 years ago.

PLAY-OFF pedigree

Wales’ record when it comes to crunchy matches over the years has been quite impressive, having won all three previous World Cup qualifier play-off matches.

The Dragons beat Israel over both legs in qualifying for the 1958 edition and saw Austria 2-1 in March to establish their clash with Ukraine, who beat Scotland in the second semi.

However, the story is not exactly on Ukraine’s side in that regard, as they have not managed to reach the tournament in each of their previous four play-offs – in 1997, 2001, 2009 and 2013.

If it is to be the fourth time lucky, the Blues and Yellows will have to break Wales’ Cardiff City Stadium fortress, with the Pages team undefeated in 17 matches since November 2018.

But Ukraine certainly know how to achieve results on their travels, having won each of their last three away games, including the 3-1 victory in Glasgow this week.

In fact, Petrakov’s team has gone undefeated home and away through the Qatar qualifiers, as was the case on the way to the 2020 European Championships.

That race in 18 matches without losing in qualifying is a record that only Belgium can match among European nations.

KEY MEN

When it comes to the individual matches, there is at full strength very little between two nations separated by only nine places on the latest FIFA rankings.

For Wales, Bale will undoubtedly remain the focal point of the side in what could reportedly be his last match ever in professional football if his side tastes defeat.

The free agent has only played six matches in qualifying, a total of 488 minutes, yet only five European players have been involved in more than his eight goals.

With those five goals and three assists, Bale averages one goal or assist every 61 minutes for his country on the road to Qatar.

As such, there is not one conspicuous star in the Ukrainian ranks, but plenty of focus will be on Roman Yaremchuk, who was on the roster at Hampden Park.

The Benfica striker is Ukraine’s top scorer in this qualifying campaign with four goals, the last three of which come in away matches.

However, this race to the qualifiers is largely based on unity, which will again be shown in the Welsh capital on Sunday.

But whether it’s the chance to correct history, make a nation of people proud or something in between, the ultimate goal for Wales and Ukraine is ultimately the same.



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