KEIR RADNEDGE in CARDIFF: Wales huffed and puffed but just could not blow down the Estonian house as they were held goalless in Cardiff and will worry about their prospects of returning to the World Cup finals even via the playoffs.
All their efforts, particularly in the closing stages, broke on the rock which was Arsenal’s teenaged reserve goalkeeper Karl Jakob Hein. The 19-year-old made a string of fine saves, notably from Gareth Bale, to the noisy frustration of a ’ 21,624 crowd.
The night’s other Group E tie saw leaders, favourites and world top-ranked Belgium win 1-0 in Belarus.
Elsewhere in the European qualifiers England were held 1-1 in Poland while victories were enjoyed by European champions Italy (5-0 against Lithuania), Germany (4-0 in Iceland) and Spain (2-0 in Kosovo). England took a late lead through Harry Kane but then concede a stoppage-time equaliser to Jan Szymanski.
Wales had kicked off third in Group E with two wins and one defeat, one point behind the Czech Republic and seven behind the Belgians but having played two games fewer than both. Estonia had lost all three previous matches commensurate with a ranking of 110 in the world, 91 places below Robert Page’s men.
Four days earlier a hat-trick from Gareth Bale, with a dramatic last-minute winner, had produced a win in Belarus and Wales pressed eagerly in the hope of an instant follow-up.
Harry Wilson might have scored in the first minute but jabbed his shot wide of Karl Hein’s left-hand post. Subsequent prompting and probing from Bale on the right wing generated little from his team-mates so the Wales captain had a go himself but curled a shot hastily over the bar.
Tyler Roberts hit an optimistic acute-angled shot across the face of goal before Estonia, encouraged by their defensive defiance, began to edge forward themselves. They forced a couple of corners and Mattias Kait produced a snap-shot from just outside the penalty box which clipped the top of the bar shortly before the end of the first half.
Wales raised the pace after the interval and Hein saved alertly from Bale amid a penalty box scramble. Hein then stretched out a leg to deny Roberts when the striker burst clear of defence with the goal at his mercy. Moments later a delicate lob from Bale just cleared the bar.
The Welsh failed to create more in the way of clearcut openings as the Estonians resorted to a series of old time-wasting tricks to edge their way towards the safety of the final whistle.
More fine saves
Bale tried his best as Wales gathered themselves for a final assault on goal. He saw a header held low by Hein who then blocked a shot from Real Madrid forward whose follow-up header struck a post.
Hein, continuing to play the game of his life, then flung himself to the left to deny Joe Allen before Bale arrowed a free kick narrowly over the bar and an Ethan Ampadu header bounced on top of the bar and behind.
Estonia might have snatched victory themselves in stoppage time had keeper Danny Ward, virtually unemployed all the game, not dived right to save a goal-bound shot from Estonia’s veteran captain Konstantin Vassiljev. In the end for Wales it was two points lost and, for Estonia, a point gained.
** The crowd rose for a minute’s applause in the 52nd minute in tribute to Gary Speed, the Wales manager who died in 2011. This would have been his 52nd birthday.