You get the feeling that if Ukraine had been playing any other nation on the planet in Sunday's playoff, they'd be going to the World Cup. The team picked up where it left off against Scotland — playing with a passion, verve and energy that saw the visitors threaten to play Wales off the park at Cardiff City Stadium.
Ukraine dictated the tempo, controlling 67% possession, and launched 14 shots on Wales' goal, forcing keeper Wayne Hennessey into nine saves. Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko was inspirational, but somehow, someway Wales kept Ukraine off the scoresheet.
For all its momentum and belief, Ukraine came up against a Wales side that's made those intangibles their modus operandi over the last decade.
The only thing left for Wales' golden generation of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, Ben Davies and Hennessey to achieve was to qualify for a World Cup (Wales' only previous appearance was back in 1958), and it was Hennessey in goal, Davies at the heart of defense and a sprinkle of Bale inspiration at the other end that made it happen.
Ukraine's early supremacy included a one-on-one opportunity for Roman Yaremchuk against Hennessey, but against the run of play in the 34th minute, Bale's first sniff of danger prompted the opener.
After Daniel James won a free kick, Bale's opportunistic, 25-yard effort met the head of Ukraine captain Andriy Yarmolenko for the unluckiest of own goals.
BALE WITH THE BREAKTHROUGH FOR WALES pic.twitter.com/UOEvPHo7rp
Wales got fortunate before halftime when Allen appeared to foul Yarmolenko in his own area after the Ukraine winger had won possession off the Welshman, but luck — and Hennessey – was on Wales' side.
Was this a penalty for Ukraine? pic.twitter.com/p7RbLMfoOO
The Dragons were guilty of wasting a couple clear chances to make it 2-0 in the second half, but Ukraine's best opportunity at the end – an 84th minute header by Artem Dovbyk from six yards out — met a reoccurring fate: the hands of Hennessey.
Heartbreak for Ukraine pic.twitter.com/DUQzCF2OEk
Wales joins the United States, England and Iran in Group B. The Dragons open against the USMNT on Nov. 21 before playing Iran (Nov. 25) and finishing against England (Nov. 29).
SCENES IN CARDIFF pic.twitter.com/5q00HWCW9r