By Simon Evans
CARDIFF, Wales (Reuters) - Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was hailed as "world class" after his outstanding display, with nine saves, ensured a 1-0 victory over Ukraine in Sunday's playoff and a place in the World Cup finals.
Hennessey was chosen by interim manager Rob Page for the qualification decider having stepped in for first choice Danny Ward when he was injured for the playoff semi-final win against Austria.
The 35-year-old has spent this past Premier League season as back-up keeper at Burnley but despite his lack of first-team action he delivered a match-winning performance.
"He was magnificent, world class," said Page, "I pulled Wardy (for a chat) and showed him that respect that I was starting Wayne, it was purely because he played in the semi-final and didn’t let us down so it would have been harsh to drop him. I thought he went to another level tonight," he added.
Hennessey's alertness kept Wales in the game a difficult opening half hour when he made three crucial saves and late in the game he produced the best save of all with a one-handed palm to keep out a header from Artem Dovbyk.
The former Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton Wanderers keeper, who was making his 102nd appearance for his country, said he had saved his best performance for Wales for the most important match.
"That's the best game I've had in a Welsh shirt, I'm buzzing," he said.
"It's incredible. Everyone on the pitch tonight was amazing, and even those who didn't make it on.
"We're a small nation, and it's great to take everyone to a World Cup," he added.
Captain Gareth Bale, who led Wales to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, said that reaching the World Cup, which had eluded the team since 1958, was an even better success.
"The result is the greatest in Welsh football history. We're going to a World Cup," he said.
"It means everything, what dreams are made of, we've been working towards it since I first came in here. Words can't describe how we feel at the moment."
"It's difficult to put it into words. It's what we've been working all our careers for and to do this for the fans, the nation, ourselves and our families is an incredible achievement, and it will be something that we will be forever proud of," added the former Real Madrid midfielder, who is now a free agent.
"It means everything. It is the last piece of the jigsaw that we all wanted and we're going to celebrate well tonight."
Wales will face England, Iran and the United States in World Cup group B in Qatar in November.
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar)