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Croatia close in as Wales’ Euro 2024 hopes are hit by draw with Armenia

Croatia beat Latvia on Saturday to leave Wales’ hopes of automatic qualification for Euro 2024 hanging by a thread after they drew in Armenia.

Aware that automatic qualification was in their hands after the earlier Welsh result, Croatia started fast in Riga and wrapped up their 2-0 victory inside the first 20 minutes.

Lovro Majer got the breakthrough for the visitors after just seven minutes and Andrej Kramaric doubled the lead with 16 minutes gone.

The Croats go into their last match on Tuesday, needing  a win at home to Armenia to  seal their spot in Germany next year.

Victory for Wales in Yerevan and another win over Turkey at home on Tuesday would have secured automatic qualification for Rob Page’s men, but after their 1-1 draw they sit third in the group.

Wales should have the safety net of a two-match playoff through their ranking in the Nations League.

“We’re disappointed, of course, we wanted to get the win,” said Page.

“We’ve got to pick ourselves up and finish with a performance on Tuesday.

“We look forward to finishing with momentum and if it’s a playoff in March, then we take that.”

Lucas Zelarayan’s fine strike from the edge of the area put Armenia in front after just five minutes.

The visitors took time to find their feet and lacked a creative spark so often given to them in the past by a moment of inspiration from the retired Gareth Bale.

Only a gift from the hosts got Wales level before half-time as Nair Tiknizyan headed Connor Roberts’ long-throw into his own net.

Both teams threw bodies forward in the final stages with a draw little use for either side’s chances of qualifying.

In the first of three Group I matches, Belarus beat minnows Andorra 1-0 at home, thanks to a late Denis Laptev goal.

Later, Netherlands host Ireland and Gibraltar travel to France in Group B, while both automatic qualification spots in Group I are up for grabs with Switzerland welcoming Kosovo and Israel taking on Romania.

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