Gareth Bale's first-half goal against Belgium takes Wales a major step closer towards qualification for Euro 2016.
A goal from Wales’ talisman Gareth Bale was enough to beat Belgium 1-0 and put the Welsh in a great position to qualify for Euro 2016, which would be their first major tournament since 1958.
A defensive error from Belgium’s Radja Nainggolan midway through the first-half was clinically punished by the Real Madrid star, who was also earning his 50th cap for Wales on the night, and despite plenty of second-half pressure from the visitors, Wales held on for a crucial three points.
The victory at Cardiff City Stadium will surely go down as Wales’ biggest and most important win in several years, coming as it did against a Belgium side ranked second in the world and stacked with Premier League talent.
Wales now top Group B, three points clear of Belgium, and five clear of Israel and Cyprus, with Bosnia one point further back. Every team has played six of their ten qualifying games.
Manager Chris Coleman and his players had spoken beforehand of the need to put behind them the many years of anguish Wales have suffered in attempting to qualify for major tournaments, and this win puts them in a terrific position to end that long wait.
They were always going to find it tough against a Belgium side that made the quarter-finals at last year’s FIFA World Cup, and it was they who had the majority of possession and goal-scoring opportunities on a tense evening in Cardiff, with Nainggolan and Eden Hazard both missing early chances.
Nainggolan’s poor header back into his own six-yard area however gifted Wales the chance they needed, and Bale made no mistake, finishing calmly for his 17th goal in international football, cue massive celebrations around the stadium.
The second-half saw Belgium almost completely monopolise possession, but they were unable to break down an extremely resolute Welsh defence that gave everything to the cause as they deservedly hung on for a famous victory.
With the top two teams in each group qualifying automatically for next year’s European Championships in France, Wales will scarcely have a better chance of ending their 58 year-wait for a major tournament, particularly as their final four games include hugely winnable home ties against Israel and Andorra.
In other notable ties, Iceland beat the Czech Republic 2-1 to top Group A, while the Netherlands picked up a much needed 2-0 win in Latvia as the men in Orange look to put behind them a stuttering campaign thus far.
The other big game saw Croatia and Italy draw 1-1 in Split, in a game marred by the noticing of a Swastika on the pitch. The result keeps Croatia two points ahead of Italy at the top of Group H, with the Italians just two points ahead of Norway, who missed out on the chance to draw level with Italy after a disappointing 0-0 draw against Azerbaijan.
Saturday’s matches will see the Republic of Ireland face Scotland in a pivotal clash in Group D, as both sides battle with Germany and Poland for the two automatic qualification spots. In Group F second-placed Northern Ireland host top of the table Romania for an important qualifier in Belfast, while on Sunday England travel to Slovenia, hoping they can put in just a slightly more exciting performance than their tepid 0-0 draw at Ireland last week.
Results from Friday’s Euro 2016 qualifiers:
Group A: Iceland 2-1 Czech Republic, Kazakhstan 0-1 Turkey, Latvia 0-2 Netherlands
Group B: Andorra 1-3 Cyprus, Bosnia 3-1 Israel, Wales 1-0 Belgium
Group H: Croatia 1-1 Italy, Malta 0-1 Bulgaria, Norway 0-0 Azerbaijan