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Wales’ 2022 World Cup play-off confirmed

Spain’s 1-0 victory last night over Greece assures Wales at least a place in the World Cup play-offs.

Having won their Nations League group, Wales started their qualifying campaign knowing they were almost certain of a play-off spot.

Even if Wales finish outside the top two in their group, Spain’s victory in Athens officially seals their qualification.

Wales must finish second to have any chance of being seeded for March’s play-offs.

Teams who reach the play-offs via the Nations League are unseeded and will be away in their semi-final to a seeded nation.

Wales can guarantee a top-two finish with four points from their final two qualifiers against Belarus at home on Saturday and Belgium on Tuesday.

Wales could theoretically qualify automatically – they are five points behind Group E leaders Belgium with two games to go – but they would need the world’s number one ranked side to lose to Estonia as well as to Rob Page’s men in Cardiff.

If Wales beat Belarus and lose to Belgium – and the Czech Republic beat Estonia in their only remaining game – the play-off spot would go down to goal difference. The Czechs are currently two ahead on that metric.

It is now guaranteed that Wales will make the play-offs even if they finish outside the top two.

Spain’s victory, secured by Pablo Sarabia’s goal, means they need a point from their showdown with Sweden at the weekend to secure a place at next year’s World Cup finals.

Sweden had led Group B going into the final two games but a shock 2-0 loss in Georgia earlier has handed Spain the advantage.

What did Spain do to confirm Wales’ play-off position?

Wales are the fifth best ranked Nations League side, with two play-off places given to the highest ranked sides who do not finish in the top two of their qualifying group.

Belgium and Italy had already guaranteed top-two spots in their groups, leaving only France and Spain above Wales.

As Spain avoided defeat against Greece on Thursday, they secured at least a second-place finish in Group B, meaning Wales will definitely be in the play-offs whatever happens in their qualifying group.

It is significant for Wales, who have not played at a World Cup since 1958, when they also qualified via play-offs.

Last chance for Allen, Ramsey and Bale?

Joe Allen accepts it is probably now or never for Wales’ ‘Golden Generation’ to play at a World Cup.

The World Cup in Qatar in 2022 is likely to be the final chance for Allen, Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale to perform on football’s biggest stage.

The trio – the stand-out figures of a so-called ‘Golden Generation’ – shone at two European Championships, but they will all be in their mid-30s by the time of the 2026 World Cup finals.

“It’s the one we haven’t got,” Allen said of reaching a World Cup. “We’ve come reasonably close in the past but fallen a little bit short.

“As we all know, we’re getting older and getting towards the later stages of our careers.

“We realise that time is running out a little bit and we might not get another chance.

“We couldn’t be hungrier or more motivated to throw absolutely everything at the games ahead to try and get ourselves there.”

After recovering from a hamstring injury sustained two months ago, Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale will win his 100th cap against Belarus on Saturday.

At Cardiff City Stadium, Juventus playmaker Ramsey is expected to make his 70th appearance, and Stoke’s former Liverpool midfielder Allen will win his 68th cap.

Allen said: “Playing at a World Cup is the one thing absolutely at the top of the list that I want to achieve.

“Gareth and Aaron are two players who belong on that stage.

“Certainly in terms of their ability alone, and also in terms of what they have done in international football for years and years.

“They have shown huge quality and I think it would be fitting if they did get that chance.”

In September, Wales defeated Belarus 3-2 thanks to Bale’s second international hat-trick and a stoppage-time winner.

Belgium’s huge goal difference advantage over Wales means a point at home to Estonia will almost certainly be enough to top the group, while victory will guarantee automatic World Cup qualification.

Allen said: “There’s still a lot of work to be done but I think most people can grasp just how big it is.

“We know how much is at stake and we’re all hugely motivated to do what we need in these two games to ensure that second spot realistically and hopefully a home tie in the play-offs.

“A Saturday night in Cardiff in front of what will hopefully be a packed out crowd, these are the games it is all about and you really look forward to.

“Hopefully, if our performance can match the atmosphere that is awaiting us, then it will be a good night.”