Sunday, June 8, 2008

Wales on course for Sweden U21 finals

Match report and reaction from The Western Mail

WALES U21 manager Brian Flynn admitted his team needed every ounce of their resilience to chisel a vital and darmatic European Championship victory against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo.

Reading striker Simon Church came off the bench to equalise four minutes from time and Manchester City forward Ched Evans rifled home the winner two minutes later.

The amazing finish denied a gutsy Bosnia-Herzegovina outfit, who had led through Boubacar Dialiba Diabang's second-half strike.

The result means Wales remain firmly on track for the finals in Sweden next summer.

Having previously beaten France 4-2 at Ninian Park, Wales now require one victory over Romania from a double header in August and September to make October's play-offs.

Wales have not reached the final stages of a major tournament since the World Cup in Sweden in 1958, and a triumphant Flynn could not hide his delight.

"Make no mistake, this was a huge result for us," said Flynn after Wales had completed a Group 10 double over Bosnia.

"I told the boys that we needed to come here and win and this is what we have done.

"No victory is easy away in Europe and we certainly made things difficult for ourselves.

"We didn't perform to the standard that I know that we are capable of. But Bosnia made it hard for us.

"They restricted us to three scoring chances and fortunately two of our efforts went into the net."

Flynn admitted he was anxious with the clock running down and his young Welsh players in danger of blowing their qualification hopes.

"I feared the worst at one point," he said. "But Simon Church did very well when he came on.

"We operate an 18-man squad and everyone has played their part in taking us to the top of our qualification group.

"We now play Romania at Wrexham next and I can't wait for that. The pity of it is that this game falls into next season."

Former Wrexham and Swansea boss Flynn expected a new-look Bosnia team to push his charges hard in Sarajevo.

"We have scored late goals throughout our qualification campaign - we were forced to do this in the away match in Malta and the home game against Bosnia," he added.

"You sometimes have to win ugly and that's what happened here.

"We made things difficult for ourselves at times but in the end, my side came through for me. I'm absolutely delighted."

Flynn brought in Tottenham youngster Chris Gunter - released from the senior squad in Luxembourg to play here - at right-back for Darcy Blake in the only change from last month's 4-0 win in Malta.

Wales had hammered Bosnia 4-0 in the reverse fixture at the Racecourse Ground last November, but the hosts' pacy attack was a major threat early on.

Wrexham's Mike Williams had a first-half "goal" ruled out for shoving at a Joe Jacobson corner as the opening period ended goalless. That looked a costly decision as, after a first half of few chances, Wales' fifth straight group win appeared a world away when Diabang struck in the 58th minute.

Welsh goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams should have done better with Diabang's low 20-yard shot - but it somehow squirted from his grasp and into the net.

The keeper's embarrassment was eased when Wales desperately poured forward in the final stages.

With time fast running out, Church drilled home the equaliser to give Wales what looked a share of the spoils.

But, incredibly two minutes later, Evans - who has spent most of the season on loan at Championship club Norwich - struck his seventh goal of the campaign to put Wales four points ahead of Romania ahead of the two nations' double-header.

The Romanians have a game in hand but Wales' qualification destiny remains very much in their hands.

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