Saturday 25 March 2017

Bale runs the show as Wales avoid Euros hangover

Wales' Hal Robson-Kanu in action. Photo: Reuters / John Sibley
Wales' Hal Robson-Kanu in action. Photo: Reuters / John Sibley

Chris Bascombe

There was a danger Wales would begin their World Cup campaign dining out on their summer achievements; instead, they began the process of replicating them last night.

Wales 4 Moldova 0

Gareth Bale ran the game; Joe Allen ran midfield. All that was missing from a comfortable home win over Moldova was a Cruyff turn from substitute Hal Robson-Kanu.

Wale's Gareth Bale (right) is closed down by the Moldova defence. Photo credit: David Davies/PA Wire.
Wale's Gareth Bale (right) is closed down by the Moldova defence. Photo credit: David Davies/PA Wire.

Rather than linger on what happened in France, Cardiff was already looking to Russia, with a touch of Red Square decor around the capital.

On the perimeter of the Cardiff City Stadium, the players' images were paraded like Russian presidents, while the typography of the nation's 'Together Stronger' slogan was straight from the Soviet State manifesto. With Bale on this form, the Welsh fans might already be investigating how to collect their Russian visas for the 2018 tournament.

Bale's brilliance dismantled Moldova's game plan either side of half-time. He created the first for Sam Vokes on 37 minutes, was central to the build-up to Allen getting the second shortly before the break and accepted a Moldovan gift for the third five minutes after half-time. His injury-time penalty sealed the deal.

The football world has taken on a different complexion for the Welsh players since Euro 2016. Where once they saw obstacles - psychological and physical - now they identify opportunities. So gloriously did they grasp the nettle in France, after waiting 58 years for tournament football, that the mood last night was one of anticipation rather than trepidation.

Wales' Gareth Bale scores their fourth goal from the penalty spot. Photo: Reuters / John Sibley
Wales' Gareth Bale scores their fourth goal from the penalty spot. Photo: Reuters / John Sibley

There was motivation aplenty for the Welsh players, but also for opponents hoping to make their name with a giant-killing.

It will be that way for a while for Coleman's side. The most frequent hurdle to qualification from now on will be a midfield shield and a defence so deep it should be marshalled by submarine officers.

Bale, inevitably, was involved in a one-touch move that demonstrated the key to picking the lock in the hosts' first enterprising attack, which led to Chris Gunter being shoved in the penalty area, but Israeli referee Liran Liany was unmoved.

Frustration rapidly built as either Moldovan fouls stopped Welsh moves of promise or the hosts' fouls resulted in the physiotherapist being called for several minutes of treatment. This is international football in 2016 - an exhibition of spoiling tactics.

How content the Moldovan coach Igor Dobrovolski must been as the Welsh struggled to create chances, at least for the first 37 minutes, but a defensive strategy is always a risk with Bale around. Vokes converted the Real Madrid forward's perfect delivery with a header that ruined the visitors' game-plan.

Flowed

Welsh confidence flowed. Bales tested keeper Ilie Cebanu from 40 yards, forcing him to push a powerful strike wide. From the corner, Allen pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the penalty area and the lead was doubled on 43 minutes.

The Moldovans looked beaten and contributed further to their demise by gifting Wales their third five minutes into the second half.

Ion Jardan's misplaced pass found Bale, who had the composure to create an angle and delicately chip past Cebanu. What had looked like being a tricky evening had become a stroll.

This was a triumph of persistence from the Welsh, who were a class apart from their negative opponents. With Bale, who fittingly had the last word with his penalty, they should be a class above most sides who come here. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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