Substitute Hal Robson-Kanu applied the finishing touch after an Aaron Ramsey assist to give Wales victory against Slovakia on their UEFA EURO finals debut on Saturday.
Wales had been grateful to Ben Davies for his crucial early goalline clearance after Marek Hamšík’s superb solo run. And not long afterwards Jonathan Williams, preferred up front to Robson-Kanu, was fouled on the edge of the box and Gareth Bale drilled in a dipping free-kick to give his team a tenth-minute lead.
Now the pressure was on Danny Ward, winning only his third cap in the Wales goal due to Wayne Hennessey’s late back injury. For an hour Ward was kept well protected and at the other end Matúš Kozáčik did well to scoop away a Bale header.
But Slovakia went for a double attacking change either side of the hour mark by introducing Adam Nemec and Ondrej Duda, who promptly turned in Róbert Mak’s pass. However, another substitute ensured it was Wales who took the points, despite Nemec hitting the post with four minutes left.
Man of the match: Joe Allen (Wales)
Allen, along with Ramsey, ran the midfield, harrying Slovakia and never letting them settle. Bale and Robson-Kanu may steal the headlines, but Allen was the heartbeat, covering a lung-busting 11.21km. He jumped 114 places to 87th in the Player Barometer after a performance in which he created two chances, won two tackles, made three interceptions and completed 42 passes.
New stars emerge
Naturally the pre-match talk focused on each team’s stand-out star, Bale and Hamšík, and of course both made a big impact in the first ten minutes. But after that it was others that made their names, notably the all-action Ramsey in setting up the winner and of course Allen.
Change does both teams good
Slovakia did not even have a shot on target before the double substitution that changed the game. Mak, a starter, made the goal but Duda – who had never scored in a competitive international – showed a cool head for his finish with pretty much his first touch. But then Robson-Kanu was finally unleished and stole the glory.
Welcome Wales fans
Both sets of fans made themselves heard on their teams’ UEFA EURO finals debut but it was the red-clad Welsh choir that stood out, particularly with moving renditions of their national anthem, familiar from big rugby games as well as football.