Thursday 23 November 2017

Bale channels his inner Delap to put Wales on front foot before Arnautovic rescues Austria

Austria 2 Wales 2

Bale: Long throw. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire.
Bale: Long throw. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire.

Jeremy Wilson

Gareth Bale has evoked regular comparison during his career to Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs and George Best but never, it can be safely assumed, to Rory Delap.

Yet with Wales battling here to a vital draw in what is theoretically their most difficult match of qualification for the 2016 World Cup, it was a long throw-in by Bale that created a key goal.

Bale was once a team-mate of Delap and, for all his famed dead-ball process with his feet, his throw-in delivery really was reminiscent of his old Southampton colleague.

Bale had also earlier helped create Joe Allen's stunning first goal but, with Stoke City's Marko Arnautovic inspired for Austria, Wales were ultimately relieved to be leaving Vienna with another point in what is already looking like a congested and highly competitive Group D.

Indeed, having caused a pre-match stir with his assertion that Wales had been lucky to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2016, Austria manager Marcel Koller had greater cause here to claim his opponents had benefited from good fortune.

Not only were Austria largely dominant - they had more than 60pc of possession and double Wales' tally of shots - but also conceded in freakish fashion to an own goal by Tottenham defender Kevin Wimmer.

Wales' Chris Gunter and Ashley Williams celebrate after the game. Photo: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters
Wales' Chris Gunter and Ashley Williams celebrate after the game. Photo: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

Wales, though, did show their customary grit in halting a winning run by Austria of 10 qualifying matches and may see this as a major moment in their potential qualification for a first World Cup since 1958.

Austria started brighter, but Wales are adept at playing on the counter-attack and soon fashioned an even better chance. The ball had broken to Ben Davies on the edge of the Austrian penalty area and his fierce volley back across goal bounced off Bale's shoulder as he attempted to head it but it still required a breathtaking save by Robert Almer.

No matter. Koller might have promised before the game that as many as three players would be asked to quickly close Bale whenever he got the ball but Aleksandar Dragovic soon could not cope with his sudden change of pace as he sprinted down the byline before flashing a cross along the six-yard box.

The ball was only half cleared, with Chris Gunter then heading it back across the edge of the area to Allen, who unleashed a brilliant left-foot volley into the top corner.

Wales' Hal Robson-Kanu battles for the ball with Austria's Julian Baumgartlinger. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire.
Wales' Hal Robson-Kanu battles for the ball with Austria's Julian Baumgartlinger. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire.

Austria were not cowed and deservedly level within six minutes. David Alaba expertly dissected the Wales defence with a floated pass into the space between Gunter and James Chester. Arnautovic anticipated the pass perfectly and, with Wayne Hennessey charging out towards him, cleverly directed his header into the ground to equalise.

Austria were briefly dominant and Wales were twice indebted to Hennessey. First Zlatko Junuzovic forced a near-post save from his fierce shot and then Hennessey was alert to deny Marcel Sabitzer.

Wales seemed to be clinging on but, on the stroke of half-time, Bale again delivered a match-changing intervention. He launched a throw-in 20 yards to the edge of the six-yard box from where Sam Vokes' flick was met by Chester. His goal-bound effort was saved by Almer but the attempted clearance bounced into Wimmer and inadvertently back into his own goal.

However, Coleman was unable to alter the basic pattern of the match at half-time and Austria remained on the front foot. Junuzovic prompted another save by Hennessey but Chester then faltered badly after a pass by Allen.

Arnautovic pounced and sprinted clear on goal before opening up his body and calmly finishing.

In the other game in the group, Serbia won 3-0 in Moldova, with goals from Filip Kostic, Branislav Ivanovic and Dusan Tadic (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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