Gareth Bale was the familiar hero for Cymru as his late goal provided victory over Azerbaijan in the European Qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2020.
Cymru 2-1 Azerbaijan
EUROPEAN QUALIFIERS - UEFA EURO 2020
- Friday, 6 September 2019
- Cardiff City Stadium
This match had been billed as a must win game for Cymru and Ryan Giggs’ squad achieved that aim but were frustrated throughout the match by the visitors to Cardiff.
Cymru were lacking penetration in the final third of the pitch but opened the scoring in the 26thminute when Bale’s ball into the box from the right forced the Azerbaijan defence into an error. As Salahat Agayev came off his line to collect the ball, Pavlo Pashayev’s outstretched leg sent it straight past him and into the net.
Cymru held the lead until half-time and an expectant home crowd anticipated more in the second half but Azerbaijan didn’t read the script and capitalised on a defensive error when Neil Taylor lost possession.
Mahir Emreli ran through on goal but he saw his strike saved by Wayne Hennessey. However, the Cymru goalkeeper spilled the ball back into the path of Emreli who had an easy tap-in to level the game at 1-1.
Cymru huffed and puffed but Azerbaijan continued to exasperate until talisman Bale stepped up in the 84th minute to win all three points. His winning header saw the ball go in off the underneath of the crossbar to take Cymru third in qualifying group E.
Ryan Giggs was a relieved figure as he spoke to the media following the 2-1 win over Azerbaijan in UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying, and praised goalscoring captain Gareth Bale for his 84th minute winner.
"Obviously, it was an important must-win game, and we won it," said Giggs. "I wasn't happy with the first half, because I knew 1-0 wasn't going to be good enough. But I'm delighted with the three points and with the character we've shown.
“There were positives, but also things we were disappointed with. I felt that there were goals there if we stuck to the game plan, but we were too hasty, and Azerbaijan are good at what they do.
“We played right into their hands in the first half, and I was frustrated. Azerbaijan have scored in every game and I was wary of that, and they worked hard tonight and made it difficult for us. They're a proud nation. No team can take Azerbaijan for granted when they play them.
"Gareth (Bale) has scored so many important goals for Wales over the years. He showed great character, just like the rest of lads, and I was really happy for him.
“We knew how they were going to play, and they're good at it. Joe Rodon was excellent for his first cap, Tom Lawrence worked really hard, and Jonny Williams made a difference when he came on. Ethan (Ampadu) makes it looks so easy, and he's hardly played in seven or eight months, and he puts in a performance like that. He's a future leader, and it's great to see him get minutes on the pitch. My hope is to see him get more games and get even better.
"I haven't had Jonny (Williams) much because of injury. He's in good form and he was unlucky not to start because of the form he's been in this season. He was playing in the right areas, and I was delighted for him to play like he did. He's an infectious character around the squad, and it was great to see him come on and give that type of performance.
“I think Azerbaijan had a plan for Daniel James to stop him having much time on the ball. He's a constant threat with his pace and his work rate. He's outstanding."
Focus will now turn to the match against Slovakia (10 October) in Trnava and the encounter with Croatia (13 October) in Cardiff.
Wales: Hennessey; Roberts, Mepham, Rodon, Taylor (B Davies 80); Allen, Ampadu (Vokes 75); Wilson (J Williams 63), T Lawrence, James; Bale (C). Subs not used: Ward, A Davies, Gunter, Smith, Moore, J Lawrence, Lockyer, Morrell, Vaulks. Yellow cards: Mepham 53, Allen 90 Goals: Pashayev OG 26, Bale 84
Azerbaijan: Agayev; Krivotsuyk, Mustafazade, Medveded (C), Pashayev; Garayev, Richard Almeida (Eyubov 68); S Rahimov (Khalilzade 73), Nazarov (Ramazanov 86), Emreli; Ramil Sheydaev. Subs not used: Balayev, Magomedaliyev, Abdullayev, Makhudov, Buludov, Dadasov, Dadashov, Huseynov. Yellow card: Nazarov 42, Almeida 67, Krivotsyuk 82 Goal: Emreli 58