Lawrence ignites Wales dream as Ireland loom

Wales' Tom Lawrence (left) celebrates after scoring against Georgia. Wales meet Ireland tomorrow with three possible outcomes: qualifying for Russia, reaching a play-off or missing out altogether.
Wales' Tom Lawrence (left) celebrates after scoring against Georgia. Wales meet Ireland tomorrow with three possible outcomes: qualifying for Russia, reaching a play-off or missing out altogether.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TBILISI • Tom Lawrence fired a cracking first senior goal on Friday that has earned Wales an unlikely opportunity to secure automatic qualification for the World Cup.

Following the 1-0 win over Georgia at the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena in Tbilisi, Chris Coleman's side now head into a showdown with Ireland tomorrow with three possible outcomes: qualifying for Russia, reaching a play-off or missing out altogether.

Lawrence, the Derby County forward, decided the game with a lovely turn and fierce finish from the edge of the penalty area that arrowed into the far corner four minutes after the interval.

Wales were then professional enough to survive some scary late moments and secure their first win without talisman Gareth Bale - absent with a calf injury - in 10 games, a run that had stretched to 2013.

The result looked to have set up an all-important showdown with Ireland in Cardiff, with the winner likely to earn a play-off place.

However, Austria then struck a late winner (3-2) against Serbia, the group D leaders, in Vienna to increase the significance of the final round of matches.

Serbia's lead at the top is now just one point (18) - if they fail to beat Georgia at home and Wales (17) beat Ireland (16), Coleman will take his team to a second successive tournament.

That only serves to increase the stakes in what will be a feisty encounter against the Irish.

Their meeting in Dublin in March ended in acrimony when Neil Taylor broke Seamus Coleman's leg, and the Welsh FA has been on guard to prevent tickets going to Irish fans in the home areas.

About 10,000 away fans are expected in Cardiff, five times the number allowed in the ground.

"It will be a sensational atmosphere, Ireland will come to party, they won't fear us, they won't be afraid, they'll come to us and expect to get a result and we'll be up against it," the Welsh manager said.

"These are the games you want to be involved in."

Ireland, who dispatched the group's bottom side Moldova 2-0 on Friday, will travel to Wales knowing that, if either side win tomorrow's feverishly anticipated Celtic duel, they will be certain of finishing in second place, at least, in Group D.

Top spot will be up for grabs in the unlikely event of the leaders, Serbia, stumbling at home to Georgia.

"It's there for us," said Ireland's coach Martin O'Neill. "Let's go for it."

THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 08, 2017, with the headline 'Lawrence ignites Wales dream as Ireland loom'. Print Edition | Subscribe