BORDEAUX: Gareth Bale enjoyed a grand entrance on to the major tournament stage for his country when he shot Wales towards a Euro 2016 debut win by 2-1 over Slovakia. Bale struck the first goal and substitute Hal Robson-Kanu a late winner in the Welshmen’s first major stage appearance in 58 years.
At one stage in the second half, after the Slovaks had levelled through Ondrej Duda, the game appeared to be slipping beyond them. But, roared on by their own passionate following, Bale and Co found fresh strength and ultimately deserved a famous triumph.
At Real Madrid Bale, for all his world record fee and talent, lives with all his other team-mates in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo. He has proved his mettle with major contributions to two Champions League triumphs in three years but this was his first chance to step up on to the national team stage.
In fact Bale was involved when Slovakia nearly took a third-minute lead. He lost possession deep in his own territory and Marek Hamsik swivelled on through the Welsh defence before beating keeper Danny Ward with a shot which was cleared to safety, in remarkable fashion, by the back-tracking Ben Davies.
The ease with which Hamsik sliced through the Welsh back line may have lulled Slovakia into complacency. If so, then they suffered a rude awakening seven minutes later. Johnny Williams was tripped by Patrik Hrosovsky and Bale curled a superb free kick over the wall then dipping beneath the right hand of keeper Matus Kozacik.
Coincidentally Bale’s first goal for Wales, back in 2006, had also been against Slovakia.
Wales, appearing in the European finals for the first time, were unable to build on their advantage – allowing Slovakia not only to raise their game after the interval but to equalise.
A suddenly-improved Robert Mak undertook a determined dash through the inside right channel before laying the ball off to Ondrej Duda. The newly-arrived substitute steered the ball to the left before directing a lot shot back past Ward’s left hand.
The momentum was all now with Slovakia, with Wales starting to look not only tired and ragged but glad to hack the ball anyway and anyhow to safety to relieve the pressure.
Yet, suddenly, the Slovaks began to pay a penalty in fatigue for their efforts to battle back and Wales regained the initiative. Aaron Ramsey headed over the close range but then raised the forward dash which saw Robson-Kanu scuff the ball on into the net.
Adam Nemec hit the post with a late diving header but Wales were well worth their escape to victory.
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