Soccer

Rob Page delighted with Wales response after speculation over future

Wales manager Rob Page celebrates his side’s 2-1 victory over Croatia in Euro 2024 qualifying (Tim Goode/PA)
Wales manager Rob Page celebrates his side’s 2-1 victory over Croatia in Euro 2024 qualifying (Tim Goode/PA) Wales manager Rob Page celebrates his side’s 2-1 victory over Croatia in Euro 2024 qualifying (Tim Goode/PA)

Rob Page welcomed Wales putting automatic qualification for Euro 2024 in their own hands after admitting he had been “fighting fires” before the stunning 2-1 victory over Croatia.

Harry Wilson, winning his 50th cap, scored twice as Wales climbed above the 2022 World Cup semi-finalists in to second place in Group D.

The two teams are tied on 10 points, six behind group leaders Turkey who secured qualification by beating Latvia 4-0 on Sunday. Wales are second by virtue of having a better head-to-head record against Croatia after also drawing 1-1 with them in Split in March.

Wales v Croatia – UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifying – Group D – Cardiff City Stadium
Wales v Croatia – UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifying – Group D – Cardiff City Stadium Wales players celebrate after the final whistle of their 2-1 victory over Croatia (Tim Goode/PA)

Wales’ win over Croatia, ranked sixth in the world and 27 places above the Dragons, came after pre-match reports that manager Page’s job could be in jeopardy.

Football Association of Wales chief executive Noel Mooney had said earlier in the week that a “serious review” would take place on Page’s position following the final group games against Armenia and Turkey next month. Page is currently just over 12 months into a four-year deal.

Page said: “I would say it’s the best performance (of his three-year reign), I am immensely proud.

“There was unnecessary noise coming into it, with me fighting fires. I didn’t need any player to speak, I see the players want to play for me.

“I had a text from the chief executive today, before that, not for five weeks.

“I just want to concentrate on the football, we are two games away from qualifying for another major tournament, a fourth in five.

“We believe we can do it. We need to do the same (in November) as we did in this camp.”

Wales had never beaten Croatia in seven previous attempts, drawing three and losing four.

But Wales had the better first-half chances – Dominik Livakovic denying Wilson and Neco Williams with smart saves – and took control after the break.

Wales v Croatia – UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifying – Group D – Cardiff City Stadium
Wales v Croatia – UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifying – Group D – Cardiff City Stadium Harry Wilson celebrates after putting Wales ahead against Croatia (Tim Goode/PA)

Wilson raced on to David Brooks’ pass to score with a splendid chip and then converted Daniel James’ cross with a glancing header.

Mario Pasalic ensured home anxiety 15 minutes from time with a close-range header, but Wales held on for a famous victory.

Page said: “In all aspects, how we defended against an excellent team with one of the best midfields in the world was outstanding.

“We are in a transition period where we’ve lost one of the best players in the world (Gareth Bale). We are introducing young players to strengthen us and improve us.

“Seven of our 11 are not starting for their club. Chris Mepham’s last game was against Latvia. Kieffer Moore isn’t playing for his club.

“But when they turn up for Wales they produce a performance like that. I am really proud of them as a group.

“The players are an incredible bunch and it’s in our hands now.

“I understand not everyone is going to be a fan of mine, but when you have a group of players playing like that for you, it makes you immensely proud.”

Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic believes the 2022 World Cup semi-finalists face a tough task to qualify automatically after successive defeats to Turkey and Wales.

Dalic said: “It is going to be difficult. We understand it is not all in our hands any more. We have to believe that we are going to be able to turn this around.

“We just played both games without energy, we didn’t play well, we didn’t create any chances. Our opponent was more aggressive, tougher than us and we deserved to lose.”