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Victory in Georgia boosts Wales’ World Cup qualification hopes

Tom Lawrence scores for Wales against Georgia

Tom Lawrence’s first goal for Wales gave their hopes of reaching the World Cup a major boost

Tom Lawrence’s thunderous second-half strike against Georgia kept Wales’ hopes of automatic World Cup qualification alive and in turn boosted their prospects of reaching the play-offs.

Wales are second in Group D, a point behind leaders Serbia and four ahead of third-placed Republic of Ireland, both of whom play later on Friday.

The eight best second-placed teams from the nine groups enter the play-offs and, before this game in Tbilisi, Wales were ninth in those rankings. But this victory and a positive result against the Republic of Ireland on Monday will strengthen their chances of competing in October’s knockout matches.

The victory in Tbilisi – the first time Wales have beaten Georgia – sets the stage for that match, which is likely to be the most intense Wales international staged at the Cardiff City Stadium.

In the meantime, Wales will watch Friday’s other results with interest. Serbia will win the group if they beat Austria, while the Republic need at least a point – and ideally all three – to retain hope of reaching the play-offs.

Ramsey given room to rove

Wales’ starting line-up has seldom been harder to second guess in the absence of forward Gareth Bale, who is unavailable for this round of fixtures through injury.

For all the speculation about a first start for Liverpool teenager Ben Woodburn, or even a shock selection in Chelsea’s 17-year old Ethan Ampadu, Wales went for the tried and tested in Tbilisi.

Joe Ledley’s recall and a straight swap of Sam Vokes for Hal Robson-Kanu gave the visitors a familiar look, with Aaron Ramsey given a free role behind Vokes in Bale’s absence.

Celebrating his 50th cap, Ramsey was Wales’ most likely source of inspiration.

He might have given Wales the lead after just seven minutes, but fired wide from 12 yards after a burst of pace and a smart pass from Lawrence breached the Georgia defence.

Looking to attack with pace, Wales fashioned a chance for Andy King on 20 minutes, but Giorgi Loria was able to palm the ball to safety.

Another superb pass from Ramsey then again unlocked the hosts, but King wasted the opportunity.

Central to everything, Ramsey produced a peach of a pass on the half hour after King’s flick-on, but Vokes’ effort across goal drifted agonisingly wide of the far post.

Wales were dominant but might trailed had Giorgi Kvilitaia not headed inches wide from their first real foray forward.

The least experience, the biggest impact

Since Wales have found themselves in a situation where every qualifier is essentially a must-win game, it has been the next generation who have come to the fore.

Woodburn’s heroics against Austria and Moldova were matched in Tbilisi by Wales’ least-capped first XI player, with Derby’s Lawrence providing the inspiration.

His big moment came 49 minutes into his ninth Wales appearance, as he collected the ball from Ramsey and powered a 20-yard effort through Loria’s grasp, the swerve and sheer velocity beating the goalkeeper, who perhaps should have done better.

Georgia simply could not contain Lawrence as he continuously cut in from the left, playing in an inverted wide role that allowed Ben Davies to provide width and contain Georgia’s naturally attacking full-backs.

The goal settled Wales nerves as they began to play with more verve and something of a swagger, with an intricate move on 65 minutes almost yielding a second, only for Davies’ shot to be blocked after a delightful exchange between Ramsey and Joe Allen.

Georgia were largely restricted to seeking set-pieces as they failed to muster a single effort on goal until the 80th minute on a night where keeper Wayne Hennessey was a virtual spectator.

When he was called into action, Hennessey kept Wales’ hopes alive, denying Giorgi Merebashvili after he cut inside and fired across goal, using his body to turn the shot wide with a little help from his captain Ashley Williams.

Wales got deeper and deeper in the final exchanges and were almost made to pay by losing possession, but last-ditch defending from Davies allowed them to clear their lines.

It was to be the final scare, as Wales set up a showdown with the Republic in Cardiff.

More to follow.

Live Text

Match ends, Georgia 0, Wales 1.

Second Half ends, Georgia 0, Wales 1.

Corner, Wales. Conceded by Giorgi Navalovski.

Foul by Davit Khotcholava (Georgia).

David Edwards (Wales) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Substitution, Wales. Ben Woodburn replaces Tom Lawrence.

Substitution, Georgia. Davit Khotcholava replaces Valerian Gvilia.

Attempt blocked. Jambul Jigauri (Georgia) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Guram Kashia.

Jaba Kankava (Georgia) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Foul by Hal Robson-Kanu (Wales).

Substitution, Wales. David Edwards replaces Joe Ledley.

Attempt saved. Giorgi Merebashvili (Georgia) right footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Davit Skhirtladze.

Foul by Davit Skhirtladze (Georgia).

Tom Lawrence (Wales) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Substitution, Georgia. Davit Skhirtladze replaces Giorgi Kvilitaia.

Substitution, Georgia. Jambul Jigauri replaces Nika Kvekveskiri.

Giorgi Kvilitaia (Georgia) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Foul by Joe Ledley (Wales).

Substitution, Wales. Hal Robson-Kanu replaces Sam Vokes.

Offside, Wales. Aaron Ramsey tries a through ball, but Sam Vokes is caught offside.

Attempt saved. Aaron Ramsey (Wales) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Tom Lawrence.

Attempt blocked. Ben Davies (Wales) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Aaron Ramsey.

Corner, Georgia. Conceded by James Chester.

Jaba Kankava (Georgia) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Foul by Joe Allen (Wales).

Attempt missed. Nika Kvekveskiri (Georgia) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left.

Attempt blocked. Sam Vokes (Wales) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the left is blocked. Assisted by Joe Allen.

Foul by Jaba Kankava (Georgia).

Joe Ledley (Wales) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Tom Lawrence (Wales) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Otar Kakabadze (Georgia) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Foul by Tom Lawrence (Wales).

Attempt missed. Tom Lawrence (Wales) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the right. Assisted by Ben Davies.

Goal! Georgia 0, Wales 1. Tom Lawrence (Wales) right footed shot from outside the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Aaron Ramsey.

Foul by Giorgi Navalovski (Georgia).

Chris Gunter (Wales) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Foul by Jaba Kankava (Georgia).

Sam Vokes (Wales) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Second Half begins Georgia 0, Wales 0.

First Half ends, Georgia 0, Wales 0.

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