Wales 2 Cyprus 1
A Gareth Bale inspired Welsh team were forced to battle to overcome Cyprus last night, as they hung on with only ten men for much of the second period for a 2-1 win that keeps them ahead of the chasing pack in qualification from Euro 2016 Group B. All of the goals came in an energetic first half display, as Chris Coleman's side sought to play high tempo, pressing #Football. They had to play a little more pragmatically after the break once they had been reduced to ten men, but showed enough spirit to indicate that they will have more than a passing interest in the qualifying places.
"We are top of the league" resounded around the Cardiff City Stadium last night long before the final whistle, as Wales went two goals ahead against their Cypriot opponents. They had been forced into an earlier than expected substitution when Simon Church went off with a shoulder injury to be replaced by David Cotterill. The change seemed to be beneficial as it was Cotterill who scored the opening goal, perhaps living up to the middle names of 'George Best' on his birth certificate! Receiving the ball out on the wide left he quickly checked back on to his right foot, curled a delicious cross into the box that the keeper, Tasos Kissas didn't get to as bodies were in his eyeline and the ball nestled in the corner of the net. It got even better minutes later, when a firm centre field pass into Bale was adeptly flicked on by the Real Madrid man into the path of the onrushing Hal Robson-Kanu. He maintained his head start on the defence and neatly tucked the ball through the keeper's legs and into the net.
It was looking comfortable for the Welsh until a break in the play seemed to allow the Cypriots to gather themselves. As Wales seemed to lessen their intensity for a few minutes, Cyprus seemed to gain a foothold and it was not too surprising then they scored. A free- kick was crossed from the right by Vincent Laban into the ruck of players, and reminiscent of the Cotterill goal should have been dealt with by keeper Wayne Hennessey, but his attempted fisted clearance merely skimmed the ball and it curled into the net. Two - one and the night was beginning to get a little more nervy for the Welsh.
Bale almost restored their two goal advantage on 39 minutes when his powerful shot deflected off the wall, only for the keeper to acrobatically turn it on to the bar and the follow up header from Joe Ledley was cleared to safety. He had another chance just before half time but his fierce shot went marginally over the bar this time.
Two minutes into the second half and they were down to ten men as Andy King was sent off. The Leicester City midfielder fouled Constantinos Makridis from behind and now misses the next qualifier in Belgium in November. That match is for another day though, and Wales' immediate concerns were how to hold on to their lead.
Cyprus had their chances after the sending off to draw level, with two headed opportunities for Georgios Efrem both missing the target. Wales took the opportunity themselves to get forward when they could with Cotterill fired narrowly wide of the opposition goal and Bale turning on the afterburners but being forced too wide to get a decent shot away. Bale and his team mates held on and their elation at the result was evident on the final whistle.
Bale demonstrated in bursts during the game why he is the most expensive player in the world. The early substitution probably pushed him further forward to apply more problems for Cyprus' defence. He seemed determined to score one of his trademark thunderbolts from distance each time he had possession of the ball, but each one seemed to be at the keeper rather than either side. Even then, such is the power he possesses in his shot and the dip and swerve he can impart on the football, the shots were frequently spilled by Kissas only to fall safe.
Elsewhere in the group Bosnia and Belgium shared a 1-1 draw, with Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko on the scoreboard for the Bosnians. The group's bottom side, Andorra were convincingly beaten 4-1 at home by Israel. Although that leaves Wales flying high on 7 points from their three games so far and a point ahead of Israel, it seems likely that there will be many more twists and turns before the qualifiers are known, with five of the six teams having the potential to still go through. #Euro2016