'It was like a home game' - Gareth Bale praises Welsh fans following victory over Slovakia
Wales 2 Slovakia 1
Published 11/06/2016 | 19:59
Wales started their Euro 2016 campaign in style with a 2-1 victory over Slovakia in Bordeaux.
Substitute Hal Robson-Kanu was the hero in Bordeaux as he latched on to a loose ball 10 minutes from time and finish past Matus Kozacik in the Slovakia goal.
Gareth Bale had earlier given Wales a 10th-minute lead with a trademark free-kick, the 20th goal for his country, but substitute Ondrej Duda equalised just after the hour mark as Slovakia began to turn the screw.
However, Robson-Kanu - a striker currently without a club - supplied a dramatic end to a game in which Wales had to defend for their lives at times and protect back-up goalkeeper Danny Ward.
The Liverpool man was called in at the 11th hour after first-choice stopper Wayne Hennessey suffered a back spasm on the eve of the game.
Wales supporters had arrived in their thousands at the Stade de Bordeaux to witness the end of a 58-year wait to see the nation play at a major tournament.
Chris Coleman's side had failed to win any of their four friendlies since securing qualification, but Real Madrid forward Bale had not started any of those games and his presence in attack was a more than welcome sight.
In a group which also features England and Russia, it was Slovakia who almost scored from the game's first attack when Marek Hamsik dispossessed Bale and left several Wales defenders trailing in his wake.
Hamsik had the goal at his mercy and drove his shot past Ward, but Ben Davies had managed to recover to produce a superb goal-line clearance.
It was a huge let-off for Wales but they were ahead not long after when a foul by Patrik Hrosovsky on Jonathan Williams nearly 30 yards out gave them a free-kick.
Bale lined up the kick and, although it was not in the corner of the goal, it still had too much power and dip to beat the outstretched hand of Kozacik.
The goal threw Slovakia out of their stride after such a promising start and Aaron Ramsey forced a straightforward save from Kozacik.
Wales were protecting Ward well and Slovakia wasted their own free-kick opportunity when Juraj Kucka fired over from 30 yards.
Martin Skrtel's uncompromising challenge on Williams left Wales claiming a penalty, but Norwegian referee Svein Oddvar Moen was not interested in the appeals and waved play on.
Slovakia finished the opening half on top and they had the first chance of the second period when Robert Mak sprang the offside trap.
Mak burst on to Vladimir Weiss' raking pass but was unable to control his shot.
Bale almost scored a second two minutes later when he met Allen's cross and Kozacik had to scramble across his line to save by the post.
But Slovakia were taking a grip of proceedings and a double substitution paid off instantly.
Mak broke between the lines and he slipped a pass to Duda, whose firm left-footed shot gave Ward no chance to make it 1-1.
Ward was involved again when he had to beat away Kucka's powerful effort with James Chester on hand to clear the danger.
Coleman responded with a double substitution of his own to stem the Slovakia flow, with Joe Ledley back five weeks after fracturing his leg and Robson-Kanu also sent on after injury.
The switch almost worked immediately as Robson-Kanu swung over a cross for the unmarked Ramsey eight yards out.
But the Arsenal midfielder got under the ball and sent his header over Kozacik's crossbar.
Wales had altered the balance of play, though, and Ledley's pass allowed Ramsey to run at the heart of the Slovakia defence.
Ramsey seemed to stumble but the ball broke to Robson-Kanu and, although his shot was scuffed, it found its way through the legs of Jan Durica and past Kozacik.
Slovakia were not finished, though, and substitute Adam Nemec headed against the post four minutes from time.
But Wales held on for a famous win which sees them take a huge stride towards the knock-out stages.
TWEET OF THE MATCH:
"Surely the best scuffed, shinned shot Robson-Kanu will ever score ..." - James Ducker (@TelegraphDucker)
DANNY WARD: Liverpool reserve stopper was handed a first international start following back spasm for Wayne Hennessey. Couple of nervy saves, but could do little about equaliser. 7/10
JAMES CHESTER: West Brom defender was quick to bring ball out at the back and set Wales off on another attack. 7
ASHLEY WILLIAMS: Solid display by the Wales captain, who was composed on the ball and strong in the air. 7
BEN DAVIES: Tottenham player made a brilliant early goal-line clearance from Marek Hamsik. 7
CHRIS GUNTER: Reading full-back had plenty of joy down the right flank, but also covered well in own half. 7
NEIL TAYLOR: Swansea man helped stretch Slovakia and offered an outlet on the overlap. 7
JOE ALLEN: Liverpool playmaker won the battle for possession with likes of Marek Hamsik and was key in the transition. 7
DAVE EDWARDS: Wolves midfielder was brought back into the starting XI and played on despite a gash to his knee during second half. 7
JONATHAN WILLIAMS: Crystal Palace man should have been given a penalty when bundled over by Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel in the first half. 7
AARON RAMSEY: Sporting his new blond hairstyle, the Arsenal midfielder sat behind Bale in attack. Headed a good late chance over, but helped set up winner. 7
GARETH BALE: Real Madrid star crashed home an early 30-yard free-kick to settle Welsh nerves and was dangerous throughout. 8
JOE LEDLEY (for Edwards, 68): Palace midfielder returned to action following a broken leg and had a solid run out for last 20 minutes. 7
HAL ROBSON-KANU (for Williams, 70): Reading forward offered a fresh injection into Wales' attacking options and was on hand to scuff in the winner late on. 8
JAZZ RICHARDS (for Ramsey, 88): Fulham man helped see through the final few minutes as Wales closed out victory. 6
STAR MAN: JOE ALLEN: Hugely important to the Wales cause and it was so vital that he recovered from injury to take his place in the Wales side. Sets the tempo by breaking up play and launching Wales attacks with his passing ability. Also closed down the spaces for Slovakia dangerman Marek Hamsik to probe on the edge of the area.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: The winner. There were a few memorable moments for Wales fans, from Ben Davies' incredible early goal-line clearance to Gareth Bale's free-kick putting them ahead. But after being forced on to the back foot, there was nothing to compare with Hal Robson-Kanu's winner. The shot might have been scuffed, but it sent Wales fans into raptures.
MOAN OF THE MATCH: Not too much to complain about in what was an excellent advert for European football. It was tight, competitive and there was plenty of show. But Slovakia did overstep the mark on occasions and singling out the slight Jonathan Williams at times was almost a case of bullying.
VIEW FROM THE DUGOUT: It was a nightmare start for Wales manager Chris Coleman in losing his goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey to injury just before kick-off. But he went for mobility in attack with Jonathan Williams partnering Bale and Wales were able to counter effectively in transition. Coleman said before the game that his players would rise to the challenge after a disappointing run of results - and they did just that. Slovakia coach Jan Kozak was left licking his wounds after his failed to take advantage when they were on top. It leaves them with an uphill battle to make the last 16.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
Slovakia v Russia, Euro 2016 - Wednesday, June 15
Wales v England, Euro 2016 - Thursday, June 16
Winger Gareth Bale was quick to pay tribute to the fans after Wales marked their return to the world scene with a 2-1 Euro 2016 victory over Slovakia.
The Real Madrid player sparked wild celebrations in Bordeaux when he whipped in an early free-kick and, after the vociferous Welsh faithful were briefly silenced by Ondrej Duda's second-half equaliser, substitute Hal Robson-Kanu scuffed home a winner with nine minutes remaining.
"It was like a home game today," Bale told BBC One. "Our fans are just the best in the world and they fully got behind us - we gave them something to celebrate."
When asked if his goal was one of the best of his career so far, Bale added: "It's definitely right up there.
"It was a memorable and historic moment for our country and the most important thing is that we got the three points and gave our fans something to cheer."
Bale was not the matchwinner as Slovakia's Duda cancelled out his strike to become the first man since Pele to score against Wales at a major tournament.
It fell to Robson-Kanu - soon to leave Reading - to wrap up all three points with a shinned finish at the death.
Bale said of his team-mate: "For Hal to come on and get the winner was amazing.
"When the subs come on they have to make an impact and he was amazing when he came on. It's a squad game and everyone has their part to play - we'll keep fighting.
"We're taking each game as it comes. We're not thinking about this game any more, we're thinking about England and we've done the first part and there are two more to go. We'll keep fighting on."