Wales manager Mark Hughes celebrated his side's passage into the Euro 2004 play-offs after the 1-1 draw with Finland in Cardiff.
Wales can begin to prepare for the November play-offs
But after learning of Italy's draw in Serbia & Montenegro, Hughes acknowledged that a golden opportunity to take pole position in Group Nine had slipped through their fingers.
"I'm pleased we've been able to achieve something. Obviously getting a play-off place is very satisfying," Hughes told BBC Sport.
"But we're obviously a little bit down because having got the result from Serbia it could have been better for us.
"Given we were down to 10 men I thought we stuck at it well. They were a credit to themselves and their families."
Wales were 10 minutes away from victory over Finland before Mikael Forssell finally beat the magnificent Paul Jones to cancel out Simon Davies' third minute opener.
Italy now hold a one point lead over Wales, and will guarantee qualification for Portugal if they beat Azerbaijan at home in their final group match.
Hughes' side must win in Cardiff against Serbia to have any chance of avoiding the lottery of the play-offs.
"We have survived a difficult competition," Hughes added.
"It has never been easy and considering where we were when the tournament started, this is an achievement no other Welsh side has managed for many, many years.
"Wales have not reached a major finals since 1958 and now we have a real chance of achieving that aim.
"When you look at the two games that are now left for us and Italy, you must feel that automatic qualification is now beyond us, but we will still be going for it against Serbia."
Wales had to contend with the loss of three key players in Robbie Savage, Craig Bellamy and Mark Delaney against Finland.
And despite being out-played by their opponents and benefiting from a few refereeing decisions, Hughes had nothing but praise for his players.
"The lads came in and in the second half they had to dig in," he said. "I was proud of each and every one of them.
"Perhaps the goal came too early. We sat back and tried to protect what we had.
"We've put in a great effort this evening and we've got some reward. In recent times we haven't got a reward for our efforts."