Wales boss Chris Coleman dodged questions over his future but looked back fondly at his five-year tenure after dreams of reaching next year’s World Cup were dashed with defeat to Republic of Ireland in Cardiff.
Bidding to end an agonising 60-year wait to reach a World Cup, Wales suffered their first competitive defeat on home soil since 2013 as Ireland sealed second spot in Group D and progressed to the play-offs courtesy of a second-half James McClean strike.
Martin O’Neill’s Ireland were dogged and defensively resilient, executing their game-plan perfectly and will take their place in the draw for the play-offs on 17 October.
“All I can think about right now is the faces of the players in the dressing room and their disappointment,” said Coleman. “They are inconsolable but they should be very proud.
“This was our first defeat at home for four years. Four years ago we were playing against Macedonia in front of 8,000 people. It is different now. It’s another World Cup that’s got away from us and it will hurt but you learn a lot from defeat.”
Former Leicester, Aston Villa and Celtic manager O’Neill, meanwhile, revelled in his side upsetting the odds and emerging from a group which he considered one of the most perilous.
“I’m so proud,” he said. “When the draw was made I thought we had a very, very difficult group. We were fourth seeds but we’ve come through and it’s fantastic. Whenever the draw is made we will take our chance.”
Wales had never beaten Ireland in a competitive fixture but dominated possession in a first-half devoid of clear-cut chances; the hosts’ best opportunity was Aaron Ramsey’s 25-yard drive which was tipped over by Irish goalkeeper Darren Randolph.
Ireland centre-half Shane Duffy flashed an effort across goal on 31 minutes before the hosts suffered a blow when Joe Allen was forced off after being sandwiched between David Meyler and McClean.
Allen’s replacement Jonny Williams provided the ammunition for Hal Robson-Kanu to direct a powerful 53rd-minute header towards goal, only for Randolph to impressively intervene. Ireland profited substantially.
Poor distribution from Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey shortly before the hour mark preceded skipper Ashley Williams losing possession, allowing Jeff Hendrick to hare down the flank and cross for McClean to lash home right-footed from 12 yards.