AFTER so many years totting up the pain, the World Cup countdown begins.

Wales have matched the class of 1958 to head to Qatar 2022 after edging past Ukraine 1-0 at Cardiff City Stadium.

It wasn’t quite another Gareth Bale magic moment but the talisman created it.

Wales led 1-0 at the break thanks to an Andriy Yarmolenko own goal, the influential attacker instead doing damage in his own box.

The forward, scorer of the opener against Scotland in midweek with his wonderful left foot, deflected Gareth Bale’s free-kick in with his head 11 minutes before the break.

It was an own goal to eclipse that of Gareth McAuley that edged Wales past Northern Ireland at Euro 2016.

That gave Wales something to hang onto and they did just that, with centurion Wayne Hennessey produced a magnificent performance in goal.

Red Wall toasted a red wall on the pitch with Ben Davies & Co putting their bodies on the line, even if they had their shaky moments at 0-0.

The whistles were loud from the crowd after five minutes of added time, the roar was louder when the final whistle went.

Players went wild with a sizeable contingent of the coaching staff sprinting towards Hennessey, a man that few would have had down as being the hero at the start of the longest day.

There was an agonising wait for the 5pm kick-off, 90 minutes of torment to earn an evening of partying.

An evening that started with Yma o Hyd had a special rendition after the final whistle, job done.

South Wales Argus:

The world might not have got the ending that they wanted – and Wales are certainly not the bad guys – but Ukraine gave it a hell of a crack and were the better side.

Yet it the HR departments throughout Wales that will be inundated with holiday requests for November 21 (USA), 25 (Iran) and 29 (England).

Ukraine were unchanged from their midweek 3-1 win over Scotland while Wales made one change to the XI that beat Austria in the semi-final in March with Kieffer Moore, who missed that clash through injury, getting the nod ahead of Harry Wilson.

Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was preferred to Danny Ward after the pair had shared the action in the midweek Nations League defeat in Poland.

Wales spent the first 1 minute and 45 seconds chasing the ball before a foul that saw Joe Allen booked and Dan James also cautioned for dissent.

That was followed by Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko finding the net from the free-kick only to be denied for it being the whistle had been blown and then Ruslan Malinovskyi fired in a piledriver that was well held in the greasy conditions by Hennessey.

The stopper had to be alert again after 11 minutes when Roman Yaremchuk beat the offside trap but was denied with a low drive on the angle.

South Wales Argus: SAVE: Wayne HennesseySAVE: Wayne Hennessey

The cries of ‘shooooot’ went up from the crowd when the ball fell to Bale 35 metres out after 20 minutes but this time the talisman was unable to hit the target, firing wildly over before holding a hand up in apology to his teammates.

Even the greatest can get carried away.

Ukraine threatened again approaching the half hour when Viktor Tsygankov went through and curled passed the post – the flag went up but it would have been tight on VAR had he scored – before Zinchenko tested Hennessey again with a curled effort from outside the box.

The visitors were pulling the Welsh defence out of position and making things extremely uncomfortable, until the opener.

Malinovskyi trod on Dan James’ boot and a buzz went up – just like against Austria at that same end.

The hit wasn’t perfect like that semi-final opener but the result was the same thanks to the head of Yarmolenko.

The Ukraine talisman remained to the fore, going down in the box after a challenge by Joe Allen as half-time approached only for VAR to back up the decision of Spanish official Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz.

Wales didn’t deserve to be in front at the break but were and could – should? – have doubled the lead three minutes after the restart when a counter-attack ended with Moore cutting the ball back for Aaon Ramsey, who failed to hit the target.

From one end to the other with Ukraine going close again after 54 minutes, Tsygankov denied by the right boot of Hennessey and Yaremchuk unable to prod in the rebound.

James had a deflected shot tipped over in the 62nd minute and the question was whether leg would tire, those of Welsh players who had been fringe figures at their clubs and the Ukrainians who had been deprived domestic action.

The clock was ticking slowly for Wales but the settler was agonisingly close in the 75th minute and then from the same passage of play.

First substitute Brennan Johnson was denied by the post and then Bale was denied by Buschchan, who got down well to his right.

Once again the action swung to the other end with Yarmolenko scuppered by a Ben Davies block before Oleksandr Karavaev nodded wide.

Wales had to hold on and aimed to do that without Bale after he was replaced by Harry Wilson in the 83rd minute.

Almost immediately it was Hennessey to the rescue again, getting his left hand up to keep out Artem Dobvyk’s header.

Five minutes of time was to be added and it was one-way traffic; Wales sitting deep against an increasingly desperate Ukraine.

There was to be no last-gasp drama. The wait is over.

Wales: Hennessey; Ampadu, Rodon, B Davies; C Roberts, Allen, Ramsey, N Williams (Norrington-Davies 90); Bale (captain, Wilson 82), Moore, James (Johnson 70).
Goal: Yarmolenko (own goal)