Ireland clinch World Cup play off spot as beaten Wales have Sheffield United's David Brooks on bench
James McClean sent the Republic of Ireland into a World Cup play-off as Wales' hopes of qualification were ended by a 1-0 defeat in Cardiff.
Wales, who had Sheffield United’s rising star David Brooks as an unused sub, lost for only the second time in 22 qualifiers as the absence of star man Gareth Bale came back to haunt them.
The decisive moment came in the 57th minute when Wales skipper Ashley Williams lost possession on the edge of his penalty area and Jeff Hendrick crossed for McClean to slam home his fourth goal of the campaign.
Wales themselves needed a victory to reach next month’s play-offs and raise hopes of a first World Cup finals appearance since 1958.
But despite fierce pressure at the start of each half, Ireland held firm and accepted the game’s best opening when it came.
Republic manager Martin O’Neill had called for the ‘Spirit of Lille’ beforehand, the French city where his side had beaten Italy at Euro 2016.
O’Neill certainly got that from his central defenders Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark, who repelled countless Welsh attacks while the Ireland midfield slowly took control of an area where Wales felt the first-half loss of Joe Allen.
Wales had won three successive games to put play-off destiny in their own hands, but this defeat could mark the final game of Chris Coleman’s six-year tenure as the manager has said this would be his last campaign.
The action was breathless from the start, with Hal Robson-Kanu deflecting Joe Ledley’s corner wide and Aaron Ramsey’s rising shot from 25 yards tipped over by Darren Randolph in the Republic goal.