CARDIFF: Wales produced one of their greatest performances to beat Croatia and reignite their hopes of qualifying automatically for Euro 2024 in sensational fashion.

Roared on by a raucous Cardiff City Stadium crowd, Wales thoroughly outplayed the World Cup semi-finalists as Harry Wilson scored two excellent second-half goals on a dream 50th appearance for his country.

Wilson’s first goal was a beautifully-lofted finish after a delicate through ball from David Brooks and his second, a glancing header from a Daniel James cross, sparked pandemonium in the stands.

Jubilation turned to anxiety when Mario Pasalic headed in for Croatia with 15 minutes left, prompting a spell of pressure from the hitherto listless visitors.

But Wales, who would have been further ahead were it not for several fine saves by Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, dug deep to hold on for victory.

Wales must now beat Armenia and Turkey in their final two qualifiers in November to secure their place at next summer’s tournament in Germany at Croatia’s expense.

If they manage to pull that off, it would represent a remarkable transformation for a side which looked down and out in June when they suffered an embarrassing defeat at home by Armenia before losing in Turkey three days later.

This victory over Croatia, and its seismic boost for Welsh aspirations of automatic qualification, also alleviates much of the pressure on manager Robert Page, who has faced mounting criticism during this campaign.

The job is far from done, though. Wales have already shown that they are capable of losing to Armenia and group leaders Turkey, so they must maintain the high standards they set against Croatia if they are to seal qualification next month.

Even if they fail to finish among Group D’s top two, Wales may yet prosper via the play-offs – as they did for last year’s World Cup – but they will not want to take that risk if they can avoid it.

This performance against a Croatian side with huge pedigree was a powerful demonstration of Wales6′ belief that they can still qualify automatically for Euro 2024, and the fervent atmosphere in Cardiff suggested their fans share that view.

Wales came into this game knowing that they needed to win to have any realistic hope of qualifying for a fourth major tournament out of five.

The task was straightforward. Completing it was a different matter.

Croatia are a world-class team with a proven track record of reaching the latter stages of tournaments, but Wales sensed they had a chance.

Croatia were smarting from Thursday’s shock home defeat by Turkey and depleted by injuries to the likes of Ivan Perisic, Bruno Petkovic and Andre Kramaric.

The World Cup semi-finalists were still able to field a strong side, however, which featured a stellar midfield trio of Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic.

The visitors were happy with a draw so their aim was to control the contest and slow the tempo, whereas Wales tried to instigate a more frenetic encounter as they chased the win they desperately needed.

Page’s side started with purpose and verve, the recalled Brooks adding imagination and invention to his team-mates’ endeavour.

Fellow playmaker Wilson was another bright spark, and he was denied an early goal when his curling 25-yard free-kick was superbly saved by Livakovic.

Croatia’s goalkeeper had to be at his agile best again five minutes later when he tipped a fierce low strike by Neco Williams past the post.

As Wales grew in confidence and imposed themselves on the match, a sense of belief coursed around Cardiff City Stadium.

When Wilson lifted the ball over Livakovic and into the net to score the opening goal, the volume reached deafening levels.

And as the Fulham player flicked his header in from James’ cross, Wales’ supporters could barely comprehend what they were watching.

Whereas the disbelief in June was of the miserable kind, this was a fantastical pinch-yourself moment.

It would not have been a Wales game without stomach-churning nerves or at least a bit of jeopardy, so Pasalic obliged with a headed goal which gave Croatia a route back into the game they scarcely deserved.

The visitors threatened to break Welsh hearts with a late equaliser, but were thwarted by wholehearted defending from the hosts, who were not to be denied.