Wednesday 21 February 2018

Ramsey and Bale save blushes as Wales party plans almost end in hangover

Wales forward Gareth Bale celebrates after scoring a goal during the Euro 2016 qualifying round match with Andorra (PASCAL PAVANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Wales forward Gareth Bale celebrates after scoring a goal during the Euro 2016 qualifying round match with Andorra (PASCAL PAVANI/AFP/Getty Images)

Mark Ogden

It takes some doing to suffer a hangover at the same time as having a party, but Wales has waited 57 years for a night like this, so it was perhaps inevitable the fizz would go flat a little too quickly on their big night.

Thanks to Aaron Ramsey's 51st-minute goal, only his second of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, and a late strike from Gareth Bale, at least they avoided the embarrassment of allowing Andorra to spoil their night of celebration in Cardiff.

But having confirmed their place at France 2016 last Saturday despite losing 2-0 against Bosnia-Herzegovina, the ecstasy of ending so many years of hurt could not inspire Wales to the rousing victory needed to complete Group B campaign in style.

Chris Coleman's team dominated possession - they enjoyed 83 per cent of it in the first half - and created a mountain of chances, but poor finishing and heroic goalkeeping by Ferran Pol left the group's also-rans celebrating some kind of moral victory by keeping the score beneath the usual five or six.

When they last faced the minnows of Andorra, in the Group B opener 13 months ago, the home side scored from a sixth-minute penalty to put Wales in danger of becoming the first team to fail to beat the Andorrans in 41 qualifiers.

On a difficult, artificial pitch at the Estadio Nacional, the 1,500 travelling Wales fans jeered manager Chris Coleman until two goals from Gareth Bale secured what would become a crucial victory.

How times change. Coleman and his players entered the Cardiff City Stadium to the kind of adulation usually reserved for Grand Slam winners with the oval ball across town at the Millennium Stadium.

The footballers are now sharing centre stage with the rugby players, with Bale arguably an even greater draw than rugby captain Sam Warburton, his former Whitchurch High School team-mate.

In previous campaigns, a home game against such limited opponents would have had the FA of Wales fearing banks of empty seats and all-round apathy, but a 33,000 sell-out was testament to the achievements of Coleman's squad.

It required a decisive victory to sustain the feel-good factor, though, and the Welsh fans would have been expecting an emphatic win to end qualification in style.

Andorra have often proven to be dogged opponents, however, and they dug in to frustrate Wales.

While breaking Andorra down was one challenge, steering clear of the visitors' reckless tackles was another and Bale, who has only recently overcome a month-long calf injury, was a frequent target for some brutal treatment.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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