Wales will have to wait to secure a historic qualification for next year’s European Championship after a frustrating 0-0 draw with Israel at the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday.
Needing victory to reach a first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup, the unbeaten Group B leaders dominated the game, but were unable to land a knockout blow against Israel goalkeeper Ofir Marciano.
If Belgium fail to beat Cyprus, Wales will qualify tonight
They now require two points from their final two qualifiers next month, away to Bosnia-Herzegovina and at home to minnows Andorra, but could yet qualify if Belgium fail to win in Cyprus later on Sunday.
Gareth Bale’s headed winner against Cyprus on Thursday had set Chris Coleman’s side up for a memorable night — and against the same opponents Wales had beaten to reach the 1958 World Cup — and there was the added incentive that a win would have lifted them to fourth in the FIFA ranking.
But while the Real Madrid star endured a disappointing evening, Wales did manage to record a fifth consecutive competitive clean sheet for the first time ever, and their destiny remains in their own hands.
On a sunny afternoon in south Wales there were frayed nerves aplenty among the home support and Aaron Ramsey took it upon himself to settle them, dropping deep to collect the ball and establish the hosts’ passing tempo.
The Arsenal man had a volley blocked inside two minutes and with Israel struggling to adapt to a 5-3-2 system and Wales springing men forward from midfield, it was a sign of things to come in the first 20 minutes.
Hal Robson-Kanu spurned a couple of half-chances before creating an opportunity for Andy King, who burst into the area down the inside-right channel and forced Marciano to save with his legs.
The ball ballooned into the air, but with the net gaping Ramsey headed over.
A near-post flick from Robson-Kanu drew Marciano into action again, but as the half wore on the visitors belatedly settled, dropping into their own half and challenging Wales to pass the ball through them.
Israel coach Eli Guttman made two half-time changes, introducing Tal Ben Haim II — whose namesake, the former Chelsea defender Tal Ben Haim I, was playing at centre-back — and Tomer Hemed.
Wales scored in the dying seconds, but the goal was ruled out for offside
But they did not deviate from their approach, obliging Wales to continue to probe for gaps.
Robson-Kanu headed over from a Jazz Richards cross, while Bale twice drove shots over the bar, first from open play, then from a free-kick just outside the box.
Shortly beyond the hour, a corner from Ramsey picked out King, whose powerful header had the home fans springing from their seats, but Marciano plunged to his left to save.
Wales cried handball in vain when a floated cross from Bale struck Eytan Tibi’s hand and from the resulting corner, David Edwards drew an unorthodox save from Marciano with a near-post volley.
Coleman introduced strikers Simon Church and Sam Vokes in the closing stages, but Israel might have snatched victory had Hemed managed to keep a diving header below the bar.
Bale, Wales’ top scorer in qualifying with six goals, finally mustered a shot on target in the 87th minute, but Marciano was equal to his low shot and also saved from Ramsey.
Church did beat him in the dying seconds, heading home from Bale’s flick-on, but his celebrations were cut short by an offside flag.