An inspired performance from Estonian goalkeeper Karl Hein earned his side a share of the points as Cymru were frustratingly held to a 0-0 draw in Cardiff on Wednesday evening.
Cymru 0-0 Estonia
2022 FIFA WORLD CUP EUROPEAN QUALIFIER
- Wednesday, 8 September
- Cardiff City Stadium
Cymru almost enjoyed the perfect start when Chris Gunter found Harry Wilson in space inside the opening minute but he could only place his effort to the wrong side of the post. The chance set the tone for the evening as Rob Page's side dominated long periods of the opening half, with Gareth Bale and Tyler Roberts both failing to find the target with their respective efforts. However, the best chance of the half would fall for the visitors after 38 minutes as Mattias Käit's shot from outside the area hit the bar.
Both sides were forced to make changes during the opening half as Wilson and Sander Puri were both withdrawn through injury for Cymru and Estonia respectively. It was proving to be an increasingly frustrating half for the home side, but the Red Wall remained in good voice on their return to Cardiff City Stadium as referee Ruddy Buquet brought the half to an end with the match still very much in the balance.
Cymru continued to enjoy the majority of possession as the Red Wall paid tribute to the late Gary Speed after 52 minutes on what would have been his 52nd birthday. Roberts thought he had put his side ahead on the hour mark but Hein stuck out a leg to deny the striker, and the goalkeeper would prove to be the hero for Estonia as he pulled off a string of fine saves to deny Bale multiple times, while the Cymru captain also hit the post with a header after 83 minutes.
A looping header from Ethan Ampadu bounced off Hein's crossbar as injury-time approached, but the visitors remained dangerous on their rare counter-attacks, and a largely untroubled Danny Ward had to be at his best to prevent captain Konstantin Vassiljev from snatching a late winner as he tipped his 90th minute effort around the post. Frustrations came to a head in the final moments as penalty appeals for a possible foul on Joe Morrell were waved away, and Page was booked for his protests as the match ended scoreless.
Fine margins – Even with the series of fine saves from Karl Hein, the Estonian goalkeeper still had to rely on both his post and crossbar to deny Cymru victory. On another day this could have been a convincing win for the home side, as Page's team created 19 attempts on goal compared to Estonia's five. However, Estonia were also denied by the crossbar in the opening half, and these are the fine margins that will make all the difference when the final standings in the Group E table are decided.
Options – With five additional players all available for selection after missing the win over Belarus for various reasons, it was once again impossible to predict Rob Page's starting line-up. The strength-in-depth within this Cymru squad has been made possible by the pathway system from the intermediate teams which continues to produce, and despite this still being a depleted squad, Page was able to name a strong team for the third match of this intense international window as Harry Wilson, Ethan Ampadu and Tyler Roberts came straight into the starting line-up, while Mark Harris made another positive impression from the bench. Few of Page's predecessors have been blessed with so many options, but unlike Sunday, this time the side just could not find a way to win.
The return of the Red Wall – It's been over 650 days since Cymru had played in a Cardiff atmosphere like this. It was back in November 2019 that an unrestricted number of fans ensured that the team got over the line with the a decisive 2-0 win over Hungary in EURO 2020 qualifying, and while a limited number were able to attend the fixture against Albania in June, this match reminded us just what we have all missed. From the walk to the stadium and the pre-match anthem, to the mutual post-match respect and gratitude between the players and the Red Wall, tonight brought back all the emotion of supporting Cymru and what it means to be part of the journey with this national team. All that was missing was the win.
This should have been a night of celebration as over 21,000 fans returned to get behind Rob Page and his side, but they were left frustrated as Cymru failed to turn their chances into goals. While a clean sheet will always be a positive, this was certainly two points dropped, and the result has undone a lot of the work that went into earning three points against Belarus in Kazan on Sunday.
This has been a tough international window for Cymru with the unavailability of players combined with injuries, suspension, logistical challenges and visa issues, but Page will not tolerate any excuses for his team failing to take advantage of a match that would have put Cymru in a strong position in the group table. The focus now turns to the October away fixtures against the Czech Republic and the return match against Estonia. It may be tough to take tonight, but there are still plenty of points to play for in this campaign.
Cymru XI: Ward (GK), Gunter, Davies, Mepham, Allen, Wilson (Williams 36), Roberts (Harris 63), Bale(c), Ampadu, Morrell, James. Subs: Hennessey (GK), King (GK), Lawrence, Rodon, Colwill, Johnson, Norrington-Davies, Smith, Woodburn, Levitt. Manager: Rob Page
Estonia XI: Hein (GK), Kuusk, Pikk, Käit, Kreida (Poom 86), Puri (Lilander 30), Anier (Sinyavskiy 71), Vassiljev(c), Sappinen (Sorga 71), Paskotši (Lukka 86), Mets. Subs: Igonen (GK), Vallner (GK), Zenjov, Miller, Kirss, Peetson, Teniste. Manager: Thomas Häberli
Referee: Ruddy Buquet (FRA) Assistant referees: Guillaume Debart (FRA) & Hicham Zakrani (FRA) Fourth official: Amaury Delerue (FRA) VAR: Benoît Millot (FRA) Assistant VAR: Eric Wattellier (FRA)