CARDIFF: Wout Weghorst struck deep in added time to snatch Netherlands a dramatic 2-1 Nations League win over Wales in Cardiff.

Rhys Norrington-Davies looked to have extended Wales’ unbeaten home record when he struck his first Wales goal in the second minute of stoppage time to cancel out Teun Koopmeiners’ opener.

But Holland went straight up the pitch and Weghorst’s superb header inflicted a first home defeat on Wales since November 2018, ending a run of 19 games unbeaten on Welsh soil.

Four days earlier Wales had qualified for their first World Cup for 64 years and this was definitely a case of after the Lord Mayor’s show with the intensity of the occasion often resembling a friendly more than a competitive fixture.

Both teams fielded shadow sides – in Holland’s case they made 11 changes from the side that had thumped Belgium 4-1 in their Nations League opener.

The Wales squad had celebrated reaching the finals in Qatar later this year at Gareth Bale’s Elevens bar in Cardiff city centre into the early hours of Monday morning.

Bale won his 104th cap after being sent on for the final 13 minutes, but Wales slid to a second Nations League defeat following last week’s setback in Poland.

Robert Page was taking charge of Wales for the 24th time – the same number as Ryan Giggs, who remains on special leave ahead of his August court case.

Page made four changes for Wales’ third of five games in the space of 14 days, with Ben Davies, Connor Roberts, Daniel James and Joe Rodon surviving from Sunday’s play-off final win over Ukraine. Davies wore the armband in Bale’s absence from the starting XI.

Holland’s new-look side was without a host of household names, including Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk who had been released from the camp to start his summer holiday early.

Louis van Gaal had presided over an unbeaten 10-game run – seven wins and three draws – since returning for a third spell in charge in September and confidence was clearly coursing through Dutch veins.

But it was an uncomfortable start for PSV Eindhoven defender Jordan Teze on his debut.

Teze picked up a third-minute caution for a cynical block on James and soon sent the ball out of play while under no pressure.

Holland failed to capitalise when Rodon was caught in possession and Koopmeiners’ shot was blocked.

Wales were content to defend in numbers and spring forward using the pace of James and Brennan Johnson.

Despite Holland’s significant height advantage, Wales also posed an aerial threat with Harry Wilson and Norrington-Davies both eluding markers to head wide.

James’ speed almost embarrassed Mark Flekken on two occasions as the goalkeeper dwelt on the ball too long.

Flekken punched away a Wilson free-kick and also safely gathered as James fired straight at him.

They were the only on-target efforts of a first half in which Holland enjoyed 62 per cent possession but could not deliver the telling pass to test Danny Ward in the Wales goal.

Davies, as he had done against Ukraine, denied Koopmeiners with a superb last-ditch tackle and Chris Mepham also defended smartly on the stroke of half-time to deny Cody Gakpo.

Holland started the second half with more intent and Koopmeiners, having planted a free-kick just wide, drilled a low shot past substitute goalkeeper Adam Davies.

It was Holland’s first on-target attempt and Wales were kept at arm’s length until Norrington-Davies climbed superbly at the far post to send a thunderous header past Flekken.

But Welsh joy was instantly curtailed when Burnley striker Weghorst scored with a powerful header to stretch Holland’s 100 per cent record in this fixture to nine games.

Ukraine win

Viktor Tsygankov condemned the Republic of Ireland to another bout of Nations League misery as Ukraine bounced back from their World Cup heartache to win in Dublin.

The Dynamo Kyiv midfielder, who had been introduced as a half-time substitute, caught keeper Caoimhin Kelleher on his heels with a 48th-minute free-kick to claim a 1-0 victory at the Aviva Stadium and extend Ireland’s winless run in the competition to 12 games.

That Oleksandr Petrakov’s men prevailed despite making 10 changes to the team which started against Wales on Sunday said much about their strength in depth, but also highlighted again the lack of cutting edge and creativity available to opposite number Stephen Kenny, who saw defender Shane Duffy denied by the woodwork late on.

Even when they did find time and space, poor decision-making meant keeper Andriy Lunin barely had a save of note to make, and Kenny’s hopes of winning the League B group already look forlorn ahead of Scotland’s visit to Dublin on Saturday following back-to-back defeats by Armenia and Ukraine.

Petrakov had admitted in advance that the emotional and physical impact of the events in Cardiff combined with the ongoing Russian invasion back at home had taken its toll on his players, but even those with fresh legs found themselves up against it as the home side started strongly.

Jason Knight, preferred on the left side of a front three to Troy Parrott, drilled an early shot at Lunin and Chiedozie Ogbene saw his near-post cross cut out after he had intercepted the keeper’s attempted pass to Oleksandr Syrota as the hosts’ high press paid early dividends.

Lunin had to beat away Knight’s 10th-minute strike from distance with Ireland looking far more threatening than they had done at any stage in Yerevan on Saturday, although Mykhaylo Mudryk whistled a long-range effort high over Kelleher’s crossbar to serve warning of what might lie in store.

Vitaliy Mykolenko drilled a speculative attempt well wide as playmaker Mykola Shaparenko started to bring his influence to bear, and Mudryk might have done better after being played into space by Shaparenko, but stabbed the ball harmlessly across goal.

However, Ogbene was equally wasteful after escaping the attentions of Syrota, blasting an ambitious 21st-minute shot straight at defender Valeriy Bondar with Callum Robinson begging for a square ball in the middle.

As the tempo settled, so too did Ukraine and Duffy had to throw himself into the path of Serhiy Sydorchuk’s drive before Kelleher dealt ably with Oleksandr Zubkov’s equally well-struck effort.

Robinson was appealing in vain for a 33rd-minute penalty after he had gone down under Bondar’s challenge in pursuit of Jeff Hendrick’s deft pass, but Ireland were spared with eight minutes of the half remaining when Taras Kacharaba’s sweet strike was ruled out for offside during the build-up following a VAR review.

Knight saw a snapshot blocked within seconds of the restart after Cyrus Christie and Ogbene had combined down the right, but Ireland fell behind when Tsygankov’s in-swinging free-kick eluded everyone in the middle and with Kelleher expecting a touch, flew inside his far post.

With Shaparenko conducting and striker Artem Dovbyk stretching the home defence, the visitors dominated an Ireland side which had once again run out of inspiration, although they were desperately unfortunate not to be level with 11 minutes remaining when Duffy crashed a header against the crossbar.

Substitute Michael Obafemi glanced wide and Josh Cullen thumped a long-range attempt just wide of the same upright with Lunin rooted to the spot in a rousing finish, but it was all too little, too late and Tysgankov saw a stoppage-time shot deflected on to the bar.

Scotland, too

Anthony Ralston and Scott McKenna bagged their first international goals as Scotland began their Nations League campaign with a comfortable 2-0 win over Armenia at rain-soaked Hampden Park.

A week after 2022 World Cup hopes ended with a demoralising defeat to Ukraine in the play-off semi-final at the national stadium, Steve Clarke’s side took care of a team ranked 92nd in their Group B1 opener.

Celtic full-back Ralston, making his first Scotland start, headed the home side in front in the 28th minute as they dominated before Nottingham Forest stopper McKenna doubled that lead with a header five minutes from the break.

It was a less than stressful night for Scotland who travel to play the Republic of Ireland on Saturday before an away game against Armenia in Yerevan on June 14, with Ukraine also in the group, but three points is a positive start.

There had been an air of despondency around Scottish football since the chance to go to Qatar later in the year was taken away.

Hampden Park, packed out for the visit of Ukraine, was less busy and certainly less noisy for Scotland’s first-ever game against Armenia, who had begun their campaign with a surprise 1-0 home win over the Republic of Ireland at the weekend.

Clarke made six changes with Ralston earning his second cap while fellow defenders McKenna, Jack Hendry and John Souttar were drafted in along with midfielders Ryan Christie and Stuart Armstrong.

Armenia boss Joaquín Caparros hoped for another upset for the League B newcomers but they were in defensive mode from the start and escaped in the fifth minute when Armstrong hit the outside of the post with a low drive from 12 yards.

Moments later, Armenia keeper David Yurchenko got his hand to a drive from skipper Andy Robertson before saving a close-range header from Hendry.

The visitors looked to be offering nothing in attack but in the 13th minute they sprung the offside trap but Eduard Spertsyan’s effort was too weak to bother keeper Craig Gordon.

Hampden fell into silence as Scotland’s threat subsided but came alive again in the 28th minute when the home side went ahead with a simple enough goal.

Armstrong took a pass from Robertson and clipped a cross to the back post where Ralston came racing in to head across Yurchenko and into the net.

The goal took any anxiety out of the Scots’ game and in the 40th minute McKenna rose at the back post and headed in a John McGinn corner to open his Scotland account on his 25th appearance.

The big defender had the ball in the net again in added time after initially hitting the bar but after a VAR check referee Sebastian Gishamer ruled offside.

Armenia made a triple change for the start of the second half – Wbeymar, Vahan Bichakhchyan and Taran Voskanyan came on – but the Scots remained in control.

In the 57th minute Christie badly miscued a header from a McGinn cross before Armenia threatened on the break a couple of times.

In the 75th minute, Clarke freshened up the side with Nathan Patterson, Aaron Hickey and Scott McTominay replacing Ralston, Robertson and Armstrong.

Five minutes later, amid the returning rain Yurchenko tipped a McGinn thunderbolt from 18 yards onto the bar and Armenia eventually escaped.

Sunderland striker Ross Stewart came on to make his debut in the 87th minute – he replaced Christie while Jacob Brown took over from Che Adams.

There will be bigger challenges ahead for the Scots but they did what they had to do against a very limited side.

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