IT’S not the end of the world. But it is the end of the World Cup dream for Wales and manager Chris Coleman.

The Euro 2016 semi-finalists will not be in Russia next summer.

Wales’ 60-year wait for a World Cup appearance will be extended to 64 at least as the Republic of Ireland spoiled the party at the Cardiff City Stadium.

James McClean’s superb second-half strike sealed a play-off place for the Irish and ensured that Wales will once again be watching from afar in 2018.

It had all started so promisingly for the hosts as star man Gareth Bale cheered his teammates on from the posh seats.

There was just one change from the crucial win in Georgia with Hal Robson-Kanu replacing Sam Vokes up front.

Slovenian referee Damir Skomina was also in charge for Wales’ unforgettable Euro 2016 quarter-final against Belgium – a very good omen for Robson-Kanu.

And the West Bromwich Albion striker had the first chance of the evening as he headed wide from Joe Ledley’s corner in the third minute.

Aaron Ramsey stung Darren Randolph’s fingertips with a powerful drive five minutes later as Coleman’s men set about their Celtic cousins with relish.

The Irish, unbeaten against Wales for 25 years, were bidding to end their own World Cup exile having not qualified since 2002.

They failed to test Wayne Hennessey in the early stages, with Jeff Hendrick ballooning one effort high into the stand and Shane Duffy dragging another across the face of goal.

Joe Allen, who picked up an early booking for a foul on David Meyler, saw a shot deflected behind.

And Tom Lawrence, the hero in Tbilisi, tried his luck from distance but Randolph gathered comfortably.

Wales then received another big blow, literally, as Allen took the full force of a Meyler challenge in the face.

Too groggy to continue, he was replaced by Jonny Williams eight minutes before the break.

The visitors got away with a series of robust challenges as the tension mounted around the ground, as evidenced by Ciaran Clark almost slicing into his own net.

Ben Davies skewed his shot well over the bar from the resulting corner.

Ireland grew into the game as the half wore on but Hennessey’s first real save didn’t come until stoppage time as he got down well to gather at his near post after Robbie Brady had cut inside Davies on the right flank.

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Wales started the second half on the front foot again and James Chester had the home fans on their feet when he headed into the side netting from Ramsey’s corner.

Robson-Kanu went even closer moments later as his header from Jonny Williams’ cross forced Randolph into an acrobatic save before Davies fired over from the corner that followed.

Wales were cranking up the gears and the Red Wall belted out ‘Don’t Take Me Home’ from the stands.

But then disaster struck.

Hendrick robbed Ashley Williams after Hennessey’s poor throw had put the skipper under pressure.

The Burnley midfielder whipped in a dangerous cross from the right and Harry Arter’s clever dummy let the ball whizz through for McClean to slam it past Hennessey from inside the area.

It was the first time that Wales had trailed in the whole qualifying campaign.

As the green corner of the stadium went nuts, the home fans tried to rally their heroes with another stirring rendition of the national anthem and the players tried to respond.

Robson-Kanu headed over, Ramsey curled another shot off target and hit a wayward free-kick into row Z.

News of Croatia winning in Ukraine meant Wales needed two goals to make the play-offs.

And, while there was no lack of effort, there was no way through the Irish defence.

Coleman’s men found the road to Russia blocked in the home stretch.

It wasn’t the end of the world. But it felt like it.

Wales: Hennessey; Gunter, A. Williams, Chester, Davies; King (Woodburn, 65), Allen (J. Williams, 37), Ledley; Ramsey, Robson-Kanu (Vokes, 71), Lawrence

Subs not used: Ward, Maxwell, Taylor, Bradshaw, Brooks, Edwards, Ampadu, Lockyer, Hedges

Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)

Attendance: 33,000

Argus star man: Jonny Williams