Wales heartbreak as Dan James' penalty miss sends Poland to Euro 2024 after nervy play-off tie

Wales heartbreak as Dan James' penalty miss sends Poland to Euro 2024 after nervy play-off tie

The final ticket to Euro 2024 went to Poland after a tense play-off final with Wales was decided by the tightest of penalty shootouts in Cardiff.

A goalless 120 minutes led to nine spot-kicks scored in a row until Dan James’ effort was saved by Wojciech Szczesny to deny the Dragons a third consecutive trip to the European Championship.

Wales started the slower of the two teams but grew into the tie as Poland’s lack of end product became increasingly apparent, allowing the hosts to build attacks with more confidence.

Ben Davies flicked a header over the bar on 17 minutes as both teams failed to test the respective goalkeepers, before the defender buried an effort in first-half stoppage time only to see the flag raised for an errant knee in an offside position.

The second period began with the hosts on the front foot and Kieffer Moore’s header was bound for the top corner until it was acrobatically tipped away by Szczesny.

Chances were few and far between, Robert Lewandowski heading over after a superb late intervention by Davies and Jakub Kiwior stabbing over either side of a nervy moment for Poland as Szczesny raced off his line and was left on the turf injured as Wales took aim at a well-guarded empty net.

Extra-time became an increasing inevitability with neither side able to puncture the other’s resolve and Jakub Piotrowski came closest to breaking the deadlock as his sweet curling effort flashed wide of the far post as the clock ticked past 100 minutes.

Rob Page took the decision to replace David Brooks, himself only a substitute on 84 minutes, for Nathan Broadhead as penalties loomed and Poland looked the more likely to prevent penalties.

It represented the tired hosts’ growing lack of ideas as they struggled to assert themselves, with Poland’s complete lack of final ball to thank for Danny Ward remaining completely untested through the 120 minutes.

Chris Mepham was sent off for a sent yellow card in stoppage time to underline a nervy end to normal play.

Ward failed to get near most of the Polish penalties before Szczesny proved the hero for the visitors, diving low to his right to parry James’ take spot-kick and send his country to their fifth Euros in a row.