Wales braced for huge Poland Euros play-off final

Venue: Cardiff City Stadium Date: Tuesday, 26 March Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on S4C, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds, BBC Sport website and app, plus live text
Highlights: Match of the Day Wales, BBC One Wales from 22:40 and later on demand

Wales are braced for a huge match on Tuesday night when they take on Poland in Cardiff for a place at Euro 2024.

Wales, in their most successful era, are aiming to reach a third successive European Championship.

“It would be a great achievement for us to qualify,” said Wales boss Rob Page.

“Whenever you go through a campaign, you’re always going to get bumps in the road, especially in transition, and we had one in the summer.

“What pleases me is the reaction we had since then. To go unbeaten in seven and to play in the manner we’ve done. It really, really pleases me.

“I’d be an extremely proud man if we get the job done.”

Wales were absent from major tournaments for 58 years following the 1958 World Cup but, since ending that drought with a mesmerising run to the semi-finals at Euro 2016, qualification has become the expectation rather than a mere pipedream.

It is with good reason when it comes European Championships, where the expanded 24-team format and Nations League-assisted play-offs mean that, if Wales win on Tuesday, more teams will have qualified from their original five-team qualifying group than will have failed to.

Securing qualification would still represent a notable turnaround for Wales, who looked to be down and out following back-to-back defeats against Armenia and Turkey last summer.

The home loss to Armenia was particularly damaging, an embarrassment in truth, and put Page under severe pressure.

Although Wales recovered with a stirring victory over Croatia last October, they still missed out on automatic qualification after a disappointing draw in Armenia.

Luckily for them, they had the back-up route of the play-offs thanks to their Nations League performance in recent years.

The same was true of Poland. Despite reaching the last 16 of the 2022 World Cup, the Poles endured a dismal campaign by their standard.

They suffered one of the most humiliating defeats in their history when they lost in Moldova, and a further loss to Albania led to manager Fernando Santos’ sacking.

Having limped to third place in their group, however, like Wales, Poland had the safety net of the play-offs.

On paper, Poland have the stronger squad, exemplified by their captain, Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski who is regarded as one of the world’s best finishers of the past decade or more.

They also have several other Champions League-level players – Arsenal defender Jakub Kiwior and Napoli midfielder Piotr Zielinski among them.

But Wales will hope to summon something extra thanks to the fact they are playing at their beloved home of Cardiff City Stadium, where they have lost only one of their past 15 Euro qualifiers.

“It’s an incredible record and our supporters are massive,” said Page.

“They took the roof off with the anthem the other day. Bring it on again Tuesday. Let’s use that to our benefit to get across the line.”

As was the case for the victory over Finland, Page’s toughest selection dilemma will be in attack, where the competition for places is fierce.

He sprung something of a surprise by starting Southampton’s David Brooks against the Finns and leaving in-form Ipswich Town striker Kieffer Moore, his only recognised natural centre-forward, on the bench – but was instantly vindicated by the former’s goal in the third minute.

Leeds United’s Daniel James made a big impact as a substitute and scored Wales’ fourth but, while he is pushing hard for a recall, Fulham’s Harry Wilson and Tottenham’s Brennan Johnson impressed from the start.

Regular captain Aaron Ramsey is expected to be on the bench once more having only made one brief substitute appearance for Cardiff City since a calf strain, so Spurs defender Ben Davies is set to wear the armband again.

Ipswich winger Wes Burns and Swansea City centre-back Ben Cabango withdrew from the squad with hamstring and calf issues respectively before the Finland game.

Niall Huggins, Joe Morrell and Tom Bradshaw were already missing with injury, while Luton Town captain Tom Lockyer is not included as he continues his recovery from the cardiac arrest he suffered during a Premier League match in December.

Lewandowski will captain Poland, who could be without Aston Villa right-back Matty Cash, who went off injured during Thursday’s semi-final win over Estonia.

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