For Wales, this was a case of the good, the bad and the ugly. Aaron Ramsey showed great composure to open the scoring with an exquisite finish but Wales allowed the Czech Republic to get a leg-up when Danny Ward’s lapse allowed Ramsey’s pass to end up in the back of the goalkeeper’s net.
Daniel James salvaged a point with a brilliant late strike and Wales will head to Estonia wondering how they failed to take victory.
A slow-burning game turned into a barmy contest, perhaps typified by the calamitous own goal that had Wales fearing the worst four minutes after the break. For Wales, the galling bit – beyond the ball squirming over the line – is that it stemmed from Ramsey pinching possession from Alex Kral on the edge of the box. Ramsey stole in and his next move was to play a back pass to Ward. It should have been harmless but Ward miscontrolled the ball and in turn pressed self-destruct. The ball slowly dribbled in and the goalkeeper, so often the hero in recent months, ended up crumpled in his goal net. But the lasting image of the night was the Wales fans, arms wide, backs arched, serenading their team after chalking up what could prove to be a crucial point.
This was Ramsey’s first qualifier since he scored twice to seal Wales’ spot at Euro 2020 almost two years ago and here he produced another magical moment to add to the collection. The only shame was the joy lasted barely a minute, the Czech Republic getting in too easily and Jakub Pesek tucked home after Ward saved from Filip Novak.
Ramsey, captain in the absence of the injured Gareth Bale, seemed to be in the mood from the off. He was booked for a stray elbow inside the first minute but on the ball he was alert and typically gracious. Off the ball he roamed into corridors of space and he was lurking unmarked at the back post when Neco Williams sent in an inviting cross from the right. Dan James could not connect but Ramsey applied a magnificent finishing touch to earn Wales the lead on 36 minutes. Ramsey is effortlessly cool where others are flustered and after feinting to shoot, subsequently fooling a Czech defender on the goal-line and the goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik, he nonchalantly lifted the ball into the far corner, sparking pandemonium among the 1,000-strong travelling Red Wall.
Wales should have taken the lead before that moment but Kieffer Moore – the only player in the starting lineup to score in their previous matches this qualifying campaign – made a meal of an easy chance. Ramsey swivelled on halfway and spotted James in space to his left. Ramsey, off-balance, sprayed a wonderful pass forward for James to hare on to and suddenly they had an inviting two v one scenario on their hands, but the winger delayed his pass and Moore also dallied, allowing Vaclik to save his shot.
The Czech Republic had the first real chance, when Ward made a smart save to repel Pesek after clever footwork by Patrik Schick on the edge of the box. A headline in the Czech daily Pravo said this was “time for Schick’s revenge” but the striker, who finished joint-top scorer at Euro 2020, was otherwise quiet in an initially low-key first half. The pace of James, who played alongside Moore in attack, had Ondrej Celustka worried but Wales occasionally appeared rusty and failed to make the most of some promising openings.
The second half was only four minutes old when Ramsey was involved in the Czechs taking the lead in calamitous circumstance. Ethan Ampadu was first to rouse Ward and the goalkeeper quickly hauled himself off the floor but there is no disputing that the goal handed the hosts the initiative.
A previously nervy home crowd suddenly had cause to jeer Ward’s every touch. Suddenly, things were not coming off for Wales and so Robert Page sought changes, introducing Connor Roberts and Harry Wilson. Joe Allen was almost punished for a loose touch in midfield and then Ramsey could only look to the floor as a diagonal pass bounced out of play.
Just as it seemed Wales were in danger of running out of puff, James, who had flattered to deceive in attack, came up with a timely equaliser. Wilson arrived energised from the bench and he played a lovely incisive pass into James, which the winger finished emphatically. A lengthy VAR check cleared the goal and it was a strike that flipped the game on its head once more. Ramsey then poked an effort at goal with the outside of his foot from a tight angle, forcing Vaclik into a save and 15 minutes from time Moore dropped a header a yard wide from a hanging cross as Wales came on strong.