The points were shared in Prague on Friday evening as Cymru and the Czech Republic played out a pulsating Group E qualifier that ended in a 2-2 draw.
Czech Republic 2-2 Cymru
2022 FIFA WORLD CUP - EUROPEAN QUALIFIERS
- Friday, 8 October 2021
- SINOBO Stadium, Prague
Captain Aaron Ramsey was booked inside the opening 30 seconds for a foul on Filip Novák, and as both teams looked to gain the early advantage, it was goalkeeper Danny Ward who was called into action to save from Adam Hložek after some good work from Patrik Schick to make room on the edge of the area.
Cymru remained dangerous on the counter-attack with the pace of Daniel James causing problems for the home side, and after shooting high and wide after 15 minutes, he played Kieffer Moore in a couple of minutes later but the striker was denied from close range by goalkeeper Tomáš Vaclík.
The opening goal arrived on 36 minutes as Ramsey showed his world-class quality to control the ball in the area and slot the ball past Vaclík and his back-tracking defenders with the most composed of finishes. However, a lapse in concentration at the back for Cymru allowed the home side to level two minutes later as Jakub Pešek made no mistake to beat Ward from close range.
The Czech Republic took the lead after 49 minutes in a moment that Cymru will want to forget as Ward failed to control a back-pass from Ramsey and couldn't prevent the ball from rolling over the line. Cymru were clearly rattled by the goal and the manner of it, and struggled to make any sort of positive impression on the game in the subsequent exchanges.
But Cymru did regroup, and on 69 minutes James capitalised on a superb through ball from substitute Harry Wilson and made no mistake with his finish. Wilson proved to be an influential addition to the side, and a minute later played in Ramsey but his effort was saved by Vaclík as Cymru looked to build on the momentum of their equaliser.
Sorba Thomas replaced Neco Williams on 76 minutes for his international debut, and as both sides went in search of the winner, the intensity and pace of the game peaked. But despite the travelling fans pushing their team forward in the final moments, the two sides would have to settle for a share of the points.
Defensive highs and lows – Patrick Schik was marked as the one to watch for the Czech Republic after his impressive performances at EURO 2020. However, the defensive system employed by Rob Page proved to be effective in limiting his opportunities and the striker was restricted to a handful of long-range efforts. With Cymru reverting to a 5-3-2 formation when out of possession, the Czech Republic's approach to pushing forward in numbers was largely neutralised. However, a lapse in concentration after taking the lead and the mistake from Danny Ward cost Cymru dearly, but there were more positives than negatives for Page to take from the defensive display.
Ramsey leads by example – Aaron Ramsey is the player for the big occasion, and reclaiming the captain's armband in the absence of Gareth Bale only added to the sense of responsibility in Prague. A tireless performance from start to finish, Ramsey comfortably took over the mantle from Bale and showed his natural talent with a goal of exceptional quality to put Cymru ahead in the opening half.
No room for racism – Cymru sent out a message in the pre-match warm-up about their collective commitment to continuing the anti-racism campaign by wearing 'show racism the red card' t-shirts and then proceeded to take the knee before kick-off despite the negative reaction of the Czech Republic crowd. It was a powerful statement prior to what was a crucial match in the qualifying campaign, and emphasised how much this team remains 'Together, Stronger' against all types of adversity.
Where do you start? A breathtaking 90 minutes with enough chances at either end for both teams to have won comfortably on another day. With the two sides looking to play on the counter-attack, it was an end-to-end contest from start to finish, while Aaron Ramsey could not have been involved in two more contrasting goals. A moment of genius from the Juventus midfielder put Cymru ahead, but Danny Ward's lapse in concentration saw Ramsey's back-pass lead to unwanted statistic on his international record.
With Gareth Bale missing through injury, Rob Page made a tactical switch designed to counter the attacking play of the Czech Republic, but it also brought the best out of his own forward line as Cymru created a string of chances. The biggest concern for Page now will be ensuring his squad get a sufficient amount of rest and recovery over the weekend after such an intense match, with the challenge of Estonia in Tallinn awaiting his side on Monday night.
Czech Republic XI: Vaclík (GK), Čelůstka, Kalas, Barák (Sadílek 76), Pešek (Vydra 76), Schick, Matějů, Novák (Wiesner 83), Hložek (Zmrhal 90), Král (Kuchta 83), Souček (c). Subs: Mandous (GK), Staněk (GK), Zima, Brabec, Kopic, Havel.
Manager: Jaroslav Šilhavý
Goals: Pešek (38), Ward (49 og).
Cymru XI: Ward (GK), Gunter (C. Roberts 60), N.Williams (Thomas 76), Mepham (T. Roberts 86), Rodon, Allen, Ramsey (c), Moore, Ampadu, Morrell (Wilson 60), James. Subs: Hennessey (GK), A. Davies (GK), Lawrence, J. Williams, Harris, Vaulks, Johnson, Cabango.
Manager: Rob Page
Goals: Ramsey (36), James (69).
Referee: Deniz Aytekin (GER) Assistant referees: Christian Dietz (GER) and Dominik Schaal (GER) Fourth official: Martin Petersen (GER) VAR: Felix Zwayer (GER) Assistant VAR: Marco Achmüller (GER)