For 36 glorious minutes, the Welsh dream was alive. Automatic qualification for the European Championship was in the grasp of Rob Page and his players, and Cardiff hummed with the belief that another special night was unfolding under the lights.
Here, at the Cardiff City Stadium, they have grown used to occasions like this over the past decade. It has been a time when expectations have shifted and big players have delivered. In a new era for a team in transition, this could have become a defining moment for the next generation of Welsh footballers.
Then a goal was scored in a different game, almost 1,000 miles away, and the cold hand of reality slapped Wales in the face. Croatia had found the net in their match at home to Armenia. In doing so, they had overtaken Wales in the group. There had been less than 40 minutes between Neco Williams scoring the goal that Wales needed against Turkey, and Croatia rendering it useless.
That is the nature of football at this level and it will sting Wales that they have, over the course of this qualifying campaign, allowed their ticket to Germany to slip through their fingers. They do, at least, still have the play-offs. Next year Wales will face one of Finland, Iceland or Ukraine in a semi-final at home. If they win that, they would then need to beat either Poland or Estonia. The road is long and challenging.
“We will now throw everything into the play-offs,” Page said. “We will be full of confidence. We are a team in progress. It’s going in the direction I want it to.”
Can Wales make it through the play-offs? Those opponents are all beatable, to varying degrees, and Wales are more than capable of playing incisive, attacking football. They certainly did so here, against a Turkey side who have impressed in recent months. Page’s team are always better when they look to attack quickly, searching for spaces early and stretching opposition defences. For them, patience is rarely the answer.
In the first half, especially, the Welsh forwards rattled Turkey with their aggression and speed on the counter. Nathan Broadhead curled wide after six minutes, before Williams scored from a similar angle a few seconds later. The Nottingham Forest full-back seems to save his most thrilling displays for the international stage, and his surging run sliced apart the Turkish back line.
This has been a decade of remarkable success for Welsh football and so much of that has been built on players finding new levels of performance when they pull on the red shirt. Williams, Joe Rodon, Ethan Ampadu, Connor Roberts: all excel when playing for their country, much like Joe Allen and Gareth Bale had in previous generations. On this occasion, those key players were ably supported by young, a central midfielder of huge promise. The 19-year-old, who plays for Birmingham City in the Championship, snapped into tackles and produced a series of impressive forward passes.
By the end of the opening half, Wales could have been even further ahead. Twice they had strong claims for a penalty, with Johnson going down under two separate challenges by Samet Akaydin, but twice those appeals were ignored. Then, just before the break, the news that every Welshman feared.
A goal for Croatia, and suddenly the atmosphere in Cardiff changed entirely. For a few minutes, it felt like the plug had been pulled. The Welsh players continued to push, despite the turnaround in their fortunes, and Johnson and Ampadu both went close to scoring in the second half. Turkey were always going to have their chances, though, and Wales were soon forced to retreat. Yusuf Yazici struck the equaliser with a penalty, after the slightest of nudges from Ben Davies on Kenan Yildiz.
“I have to be careful what I say,” Page said of the refereeing. “I really can’t get my head around it.”
Wales sought a winner but Croatia’s victory in Zagreb, which was confirmed before full-time in Cardiff, meant it would have counted for nothing. The qualification journey continues.
Draw ends Welsh hopes of automatic Euro 2024 qualification, as it happened
10:12 PM GMT
We’re disappointed, but I’ve said to the players, Ben [Davies] said it in the huddle on the pitch, we put in a great performance. I’ve got to be careful what I say, we could’ve had two penalties and it seemed like a soft penalty. Sometimes it goes for you, sometimes it doesn’t.
That level of performance is what we need to do. If we do that when we come back together in March we’ll be okay. I said before the game, to come into this camp still in with a chance of qualification is an incredible achievement.
We’re disappointed we haven’t qualified automatically, but I’m off tomorrow to find out who we’ve got in the draw for the play-off. We’ll get together in March and build on what we saw tonight, and against Croatia.
10:04 PM GMT
Luka Modrić will play in his NINTH major tournament
Wales’ heartbreak is Croatia’s gain as they become the final team to secure their place automatically for Euro 2024.
09:54 PM GMT
Seen some bad refereeing performances over the years, but Matej Jug, that was up there with the worst 🤦♂️ Totally diabolical 🙄 #WALTUR #Cymru #Turkey 🏴
On to the playoffs we go… #Euro2024Qualifiers #Germany24
— Chris Moss (@moss2415) November 21, 2023
— Mark (@crazycraven) November 21, 2023
referees are slowly but surely killing my love of the sport #WALTUR
— Bryn 🏴 (@BrynoDavies) November 21, 2023
09:44 PM GMT
FULL TIME: Wales 1 Turkey 1
All over in the Cardiff. Frustrations boil over as players on both sides come together, pushing and shoving.
Roberts is booked by the referee. Had he been sent off, that would have ruled him out of the play-offs which is where Wales are heading in March.
09:39 PM GMT
90+2mins: Wales 1 Turkey 1
Only the Turkey fans can be heard in Cardiff at the moment. Word has got around about Wales’ fate.
09:37 PM GMT
90mins: Wales 1 Turkey 1
Whistle blows in Croatia and they are through to the Euros.
Four mins of stoppage time in Cardiff.
09:36 PM GMT
88mins: Wales 1 Turkey 1
Croatia still leading in Zagreb as we approach the closing stages. Ozcan becomes the latest Turkey player to be booked.
09:31 PM GMT
84mins: Wales 1 Turkey 1
Johnson races clear and dinks a shot over Bayindir which goes into the net off the post. But unfortunately for Wales the flag goes up for offside and it is the right decision.
Another Wales sub - Williams off, Moore on.
09:28 PM GMT
82mins: Wales 1 Turkey 1
Akturkoglu picks up a booking for dissent.
09:26 PM GMT
80mins: Wales 1 Turkey 1
Wales sub - Wilson off, Dan James on.
09:25 PM GMT
78mins: Wales 1 Turkey 1
Turkey have been the better team in this half and deserve to be level. But it was such a harsh penalty.
Final Turkey change - Sari off, Ayhan on.
09:22 PM GMT
75mins: Wales 1 Turkey 1
Wilson gives it away and Turkey break clear with Sari, who shoots from distance and the ball beats Ward and kisses the top of the bar.
Brilliant effort from the wideman.
09:18 PM GMT
72mins: Wales 1 Turkey 1
This game is starting to boil over. A sense of injustice sweeping across the Wales players and fans.
Celik is booked for pushing over Williams by the touchline.
09:17 PM GMT
70mins: Wales 1 Turkey 1 GOAL
Yazici sends Ward the wrong way to bring his side level. Page on the touchline tries to rally his players.
Wales will rightly feel they should have got at least one penalty themselves in this game.
09:16 PM GMT
68mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0 PENALTY
Penalty given to Turkey. Davies is booked. The ball is swung into the box, Davies nudges over Yildiz and the ref gives it.
09:14 PM GMT
65mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Turkey continue to dominate the ball in search of an equaliser. But Lockyer, Davies & Rodon are defending manfully.
Croatia are still leading in Zagreb over Armenia.
09:08 PM GMT
61mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Jordon James has been excellent for Wales and he does really well to get back and prevent Yildiz from crossing into the box.
Wales sub - Broadhead off, Brooks on.
09:06 PM GMT
60mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Header at the back post is met firmly by Ampadu but Bayindir makes a comfortable save.
09:05 PM GMT
58mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Great save Ward. Corner comes in and Akaydin has a free header but it’s straight at the Wales keeper, who parries the ball and it is then cleared.
Fourth Turkey sub - 18-year-old Yildiz comes on for Yilmaz.
09:00 PM GMT
54mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Wilson is the latest player to demand a penalty after being caught in the box. His foot is trodden on by Yazici but again no penalty.
Yazici is then booked by the referee for dissent.
08:57 PM GMT
51mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Ozcan blasts over the bar from 30 yards out. Turkey yet to test Ward in the Wales goal.
08:56 PM GMT
49mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Horrendous foul throw by Turkey is missed by the officials before Johnson forces a fine save from Bayindir, who tips the shot away for a corner.
08:51 PM GMT
Second half: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Another change for Turkey at the break. Ozkacar is taken off and on comes Celik.
08:49 PM GMT
Jordan James in that first half was sensational, his control and choice of pass 🔥⚽️🔥⚽️#TogetherStronger
— WelshyJim (@WelshyJim) November 21, 2023
Brilliant first half we’re doing our part but Armenia are not! Just hope we can end the group on a high regardless of what happens but please Armenia do us a favour and equalise. Oh and that ref needs to get a life. #Wales #TogetherStronger
— Curtis 🦢🏴 (@CurtisTheJack) November 21, 2023
I know some people groan whenever Neco attempts the cut-in and shot, but moments like that are why you have to let him try it at least once a match.
Tremendous shooting accuracy for a defender of his age, and an absolute thrill when it hits the back of the net.
— Cymru Prem Tweets n Takes (@CPL_TnT) November 21, 2023
08:37 PM GMT
HALF TIME: Wales 1 Turkey 0
We go to the break with Wales in the lead thanks to Williams. But the mood is understandably flat given what is happening elsewhere.
Important half-time talk for Rob Page to keep his players focused on doing their jobs tonight.
08:34 PM GMT
45+2mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
The situation is now out of Wales’ hands and they require a big favour from Armenia.
The faces on the fans in Cardiff tell the story at the moment.
08:32 PM GMT
45mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Four minutes added on in Cardiff.
08:31 PM GMT
44mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Bad news for Wales. Croatia lead against Armenia in Zagreb. And that has killed the atmosphere in Cardiff.
— Viaplay Sports UK (@ViaplaySportsUK) November 21, 2023
08:30 PM GMT
43mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Just moments after my previous post, Turkey have their best chance of the game.
Yazici flicks on a cross into the cross and the ball falls nicely for Akturkoglu but he blazes his shot over the bar. Poor effort.
08:29 PM GMT
41mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Wales happy for Turkey to have more of the ball at this stage of the match and break on the counter.
They don’t want to sit too deep though...
08:25 PM GMT
36mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Turkey look a bit more lively after the introduction of Yazici, who is playing in the No 10 position. He’s getting on the ball and trying to make things happen. But the Wales defence are dealing with it well.
08:19 PM GMT
32mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Var check complete - no penalty. Cakir comes off and on comes Man Utd reserve keeper Bayindir comes on.
They make another sub with Yazici replacing Omur in a tactical switch.
08:17 PM GMT
29mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Wales are getting a lot of joy between the lines of Turkey. Just need some cutting edge to finish them off.
Wales want a penalty again after Johnson goes down. Var are taking a look. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Cakir is down again and doesn’t look like he can continue.
08:14 PM GMT
26mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Akaydin slides in on Johnson on the far side of the box. Replays shows Akaydin going through his man and then taking the ball.
The referee and Var agree with no penalty. That was a risky tackle though.
08:09 PM GMT
21mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Wilson and the Welsh fans want a foul on the edge of the box but nothing is given. Johnson is booked for squaring up to Bardakci.
08:06 PM GMT
18mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Turkey goalkeeper Cakir is down and receiving treatment after earlier taking a knock at a corner.
He looks OK to continue though.
08:04 PM GMT
16mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Armenia are still holding Croatia so as it stands, things are going to plan for Wales. And the fans are appreicating the fight from their players on the pitch.
08:00 PM GMT
13mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Turkey struggling to get going in the early stages. The intensity and work rate from Wales is causing them all sorts of problems.
07:57 PM GMT
10mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0
Neco Williams seems to save his best performances for international duty and that was another moment of real quality from the Nottingham Forest wing-back. Those surging runs are his trademark in a Wales shirt, and it’s a lovely finish that followed.
07:56 PM GMT
7mins: Wales 1 Turkey 0 GOAL
Just the start Wales wanted. Wilson turns neatly 35 yards out and plays the ball out wide to Williams. The Nottingham Forest wing-back then comes inside his man and curls a shot into the far corner. Brilliant finish.
That’s his first goal since Nov 2021 against Belarus.
— Viaplay Sports UK (@ViaplaySportsUK) November 21, 2023
07:52 PM GMT
4mins: Wales 0 Turkey 0
First chance for Wales. Broadhead bursts towards the penalty area and whips a right-footed shot just past the post.
07:49 PM GMT
2mins: Wales 0 Turkey 0
Lively start in Cardiff. Wales flying into tackles and trying to press the visitors high.
07:47 PM GMT
Kick Off: Wales vs Turkey
Johnson gets the match underway!
07:46 PM GMT
Spine-tingling rendition of the Welsh national anthem as the brass band background music ends after 10 seconds and the crowd sings loudly and proudly.
Kick off moments away!
07:42 PM GMT
Here we go!
After waiting in the tunnel for a few minutes, the teams come out to a sell out crowd.
Wales in their customary red, Turkey in white. National anthem time...
07:40 PM GMT
Latest update from Cardiff City Stadium
Rob Page, the Wales manager, has not entertained any talk of play-offs this week. But there is no point hiding from the reality of the situation: the play-offs really are the likely destination for Wales, unless the unexpected happens tonight.
How much should Wales fear the play-offs? Well, the semi-final would be at home to either Finland, Iceland or Ukraine. Of those three, Ukraine would surely be the most challenging opponent.
From there, Wales would need to beat either Poland or Estonia.
It’s not easy. But it’s certainly not impossible, either.
07:30 PM GMT
Pre-match thoughts from Rob Page
We’re having no talk of play-offs. If we’re talking play-offs, we may as well call the game off. That’s our mentality and attitude. We’re fully focused on the job we’ve got and we don’t want any regrets when that final whistle goes.
We were aware that (play-offs) would be the talking point because of the disappointment of the Armenia game. I addressed that at a meeting with the players and I got Mitch (Ian Mitchell, head of performance psychology) to speak about it as well. We’re not admitting defeat and thinking ‘why not?’ because potentially we can qualify if the other result goes our way.
What I don’t want to do is walk off at the end of the game, the result’s gone for us, and we could have taken charge of it.
07:25 PM GMT
The state of affairs are clear
Wales have to win and hope Croatia drop points at home to Armenia in order to claim the second automatic qualification, or face going through the play-offs in March to make Euro 2024 in Germany next summer.
07:14 PM GMT
Turkey's starting XI
Turkey: Cakir, Kadioglu, Akaydin, Bardakci, Ozkacar, Yuksek, Sari, Omur, Salih Ozcan, Akturkoglu, Baris Yilmaz.
Subs: Celik, Yildiz, Bayindir, Kutlu, Yazici, Soyuncu, Kahveci, Ozdemir, Elmali, Kabak, Gunok, Ayhan.
07:10 PM GMT
Page takes a gamble
Wales have made three changes to the team which drew 1-1 draw with Armenia.
A bit surprised Daniel James has been left on the bench too.
07:00 PM GMT
BREAKING: Wales' starting XI
— Wales 🏴 (@Cymru) November 21, 2023
05:24 PM GMT
Preview: Don't mention the play-offs
Having at best hobbled their chances of automatic qualification for the European Championship finals in German with Saturday’s exasperating 1-1 draw with Armenia, Wales must beat Turkey in tonight’s qualifier in Cardiff and cross their fingers that Croatia somehow fail to beat Armenia in Zagreb this evening to secure a top-two spot in Group D.
Wales have already guaranteed a play-off place in March but it is not a path Wales wish to tread and Page has banished all talk of relying on that route before the game at Cardiff City Stadium. “We’re having no talk of play-offs,” the head coach who took them to Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup said. “If we’re talking play-offs, we may as well call the game off on Tuesday. That’s our mentality and attitude. We’re fully focused on the job we’ve got and we don’t want any regrets when that final whistle goes.”
Wales had automatic qualification in their own hands before Saturday’s 1-1 draw in Armenia when Page’s side were fortunate to return home with a point. Croatia took advantage by winning 2-0 in Latvia to move into second spot behind already-qualified Turkey.
Luton defender Tom Lockyer is expected to replace the suspended Chris Mepham and make his first competitive appearance since September 2021. Brennan Johnson and Daniel James should also return to sharpen up the attack against opponents who beat Wales 2-0 in June and warmed up for their trip to Cardiff by beating Germany 3-2 in a Berlin friendly on Saturday.
“What we do need, from minute one, is energy,” Page said. “Off the back of their result against Germany and the threat they pose, we have to have energy in that team. This is the first time in a while that we’ve had two competitive games in quick succession.
“We’re not blessed with a pool of players coming in that are not playing too much domestically. There potentially could be changes, or at least coming off the bench and having an impact.”
Vincenzo Montella, who has won both his games as Turkey’s manager after succeeding Stefan Kuntz in September, is determined his side qualify for their third successive Euro finals in style by beating Wales to secure top spot and a place in Pot 1 for the draw.
“We have come all this way to Cardiff prepared,” the former Italy, Roma and, briefly, Fulham striker said. “We have come here top of this group and that is the way we want to finish it. We want to maintain this leadership and we are focused on what we have to do, show our standing and our performance levels.”