It proved to be a frustrating evening for Paul Bodin and his Cymru U21 side as they were held to a 0-0 draw against Moldova in their opening UEFA U21 EURO 2023 qualifier at Stebonheath, with a controversial red card for Sion Spence the big talking point of the match.
UEFA U21 EURO QUALIFYING ROUND
Cymru 0-0 Moldova
- Stebonheath Park, Llanelli
Bodin had emphasised before the game that the important element was for his side to put in the right performance as part of preparing more players to continue on the pathway to the senior side. Cymru certainly started stronger of the two teams in the Llanelli sun, with Spence causing a number of problems for Moldova in the early exchanges.
With Ryan Stirk spraying the ball around from the middle of midfield, Cymru looked in control as Joe Adams tested goalkeeper Iulian Agachi with a free-kick from the edge of the area after 12 minutes. Agachi was again called into action to deny Spence from close range a minute later after he had been fed through by a fine ball from Stirk.
The Moldovan defence were also tested by a series of corners from captain Terry Taylor as Cymru continued to push for would have been a deserved opening goal. On 34 minutes, Adams was again denied by Agachi after being put through on goal by a ball from Taylor. However, Moldova would enjoy their own spell of pressure before half-time.
With a number of niggling fouls disrupting the flow of the game, Marius Iosipoi had the opportunity to ask questions of the Cymru defence with a string of free-kicks on the edge of the area as the visitors finished the half strongly. Mihail Stefan saw his shot blocked after 36 minutes in what was Moldova's best chance of the half. Cymru almost took the lead before half-time when Morgan Boyes rose above the Moldovan defence to head a corner from Taylor towards goal. His effort drifted narrowly off target as the half came to a close.
Cymru made a purposeful start to the second half with Niall Huggins delivering a cross from the right for Adams, but the striker failed to find the target. Huggins was replaced by Sam Pearson on the hour as the home side continued to enjoy the majority of possession on the excellent playing surface at Stebonheath, but not even a change in personnel could help Bodin's side score the all-important opening goal.
Controversy followed with 20 minutes remaining when Cymru had a strong appeal for a penalty turned down and Maltese referee Matthew De Gabrielle adjudged that Spence had simulated contact. Injured in the incident, Spence was shown a second yellow card, and the resulting red, while being stretchered off the field. The decision infuriated the home side, and minutes later Adams headed a fine effort against the crossbar.
On 79 minutes, Valeriu Gaiu tried his luck with a long-range effort that narrowly missed Daniel Barden's far post as the visitors remained a danger on the counter-attack against the 10-men of their opponents. Despite being a man down, Cymru finished the match much the stronger side, and substitute Lewis Collins could have won the match in the final moments but was denied by some desperate defending.
Cymru U21 XI: Barden (GK), Stevens, Jones, Stirk, Sass-Davies, Boyes, Huggins (Pearson 63), Taylor (c), Jephcott (Collins 89), Spence, Adams.
Subs: Webb (GK), Hughes, Bowen, Vale, Thorpe, Evans, Williams-Margetson.
Moldova U21 XI: Agachi (GK), Revenco (c), Stefan, Zaporojan, Ieseanu, Cotogoi, Postolachi (Stefu 90+4), Iosipoi (Danu 90+4), Motpan (Osipov 90+4), Cojocari (Puscas 83), Gaiu.
Subs: Coval (GK), Raelian (GK), Gliga, Lisu, Bors.
Referee: Matthew De Gabriele (Malta)
Assistants: Jurgen Spiteri & Mitchell Scerri (Malta)
Fourth official: Andrea Sciriha (Malta)