Wales missed out on automatic qualification for Euro 2024 as Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Turkey condemned them to the play-offs after Croatia clinched a place in Germany with their 1-0 win against Armenia.
Rob Page’s side needed to beat Turkey along with Croatia dropping points at home to Armenia if they were to reach next year’s tournament via a top-two finish in Group D.
Neco Williams gave Wales an early lead but Yusuf Yazici’s second half penalty denied the hosts to the frustration of a capacity crowd at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Wales’ result was rendered irrelevant by Ante Budimir’s first half goal for Croatia, which sealed their tense victory over Armenia.
Turkey, who were already assured of qualification, finished top of Group D, with Croatia in second place and Wales four points behind them in third.
“We’re disappointed, but 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 for them,” Page said.
“That level of performance is what we need to do. If we do that when we come back together in March we’ll be ok.
“We’re disappointed we haven’t qualified automatically. But I said before the game, to come into this camp still in with a chance of qualification is an incredible achievement.”
Wales have to regroup in time to face Finland, Ukraine or Iceland in the play-off semi-finals in Cardiff on March 21.
A UEFA draw on Thursday will decide which of the three nations Wales will face.
If they win the semi-final, Page’s men would need to beat Poland or Estonia in the play-off final on March 26 to reach the Euros in Germany.
The play-off format should hold no fears for Wales after they qualified for the 2022 World Cup by beating Austria and Ukraine.
Wales’ bid to reach a fourth major tournament in their last five attempts had been seriously wounded by a dismal 1-1 draw with Armenia on Saturday.
Looking for a miracle in their final group match, Wales took the lead in the seventh minute when Williams collected Jordan James’ pass and drilled a fine finish past Ugurcan Cakir.
Brennan Johnson appealed in vain for a penalty after a clumsy challenge from Turkey’s Samet Akaydin went unpunished.
Johnson’s shot on the turn drew a good save from Altay Bayindir, who had replaced the injured Cakir.
But just before half-time, news of Budimir’s opener for Croatia filtered through from Zagreb.
Despite that blow, Wales kept pressing after half-time and Johnson’s low strike was repelled by Bayindir, who saved from Ethan Ampadu‘s header moments later.
Well below their best for long periods, Turkey drew level against the run of play in the 70th minute.
It was harsh on Wales as Ben Davies was ruled to have fouled Kenan Yildiz with only minimal contact.
Yazici stroked home the penalty to consign Wales to the lottery of the play-offs.