Bale grabs late winner to keep Wales' Euro dreams alive
Euro 2020, Euro Qualifying, Group E, Cardiff City Stadium - Wales 2 (Pasayev 26 (O.G.), Bale 84') Azerbaijan 1 (Emreli 59)
Gareth Bale’s late header kept Wales’ Euro 2020 chances alive as they beat Azerbaijan 2-1 at the Cardiff City Stadium.
It wasn’t a vintage Dragons performance and they struggled to breakdown their resolute visitors, but after a quiet game, the Real Madrid star struck with six minutes to go. A Pavlo Pashaev own goal had given Wales the lead before half time, with Mehir Emreli equalising just shy of the hour.
Gareth Bale celebrates the dramatic late winnerGetty Images
Chances were at a premium for both sides early on, and it was easy to see why Wales had only scored six goals in their previous nine games. Dan James was lively, and led a push as time progressed, but the home side didn’t start quickly.
They went ahead on 26 minutes in bizarre fashion. Bale’s shot was deflected, only for it to hit Pashaev and trickle past Azerbaijani goalkeeper Salahat Agayev into the empty net.
While that did see an improvement from the hosts, with James particularly involved, Azerbaijan were resolute at the back. Both sides were perhaps lucky not to see a man sent off; after Harry Wilson appeared to stamp on Richard Almeida nine minutes before the opener, the referee didn’t punish Emreli for a clear elbow on Chris Mepham with half time looming.
Wales started with intensity again in the second half, but a minute shy of the hour, Azerbaijan levelled. Neil Taylor’s mistake allowed Emreli to race clear; Wayne Hennessey parried his first effort, but was powerless as he pounced on the rebound.
With pressure growing, Bale was there again, as he so often is for his country, to grab a win that keeps Wales in touch with Hungary and Slovakia at the top of Group E.
TALKING POINT – Bale saves the day again
Wales' coach Ryan Giggs shouts instructions to his players from the touchline during the UEFA Euro 2020 QualifyingGetty Images
It wasn’t pretty, but Wales got there in the end. It had been a quiet night for their talisman, but he stepped up when it mattered like all great players do. Bale did have a hand in the first goal, but moments after hitting the wall with a free kick, made a real impact with a header that crept over the line.
MAN OF THE MATCH – Dan James (Wales)
Before Bale’s goal, it didn’t appear clear how Wales were going to get their breakthrough. But James, fresh from a superb start to life at Manchester United, was their best hope for much of the game. Ryan Giggs’ men are at their best when playing quickly, and he was the only man to consistently do that on the night.
Azerbaijan: Agayev 6, Pashaev 4, Medvedev 6, Mustafazade 6, Krivotsyuk 6, Richard 5, Garayev 5, Emreli 6, Nazarov 6, Rahimov 6, Sheydaev 5 Substitutes: Eyyubov 5, Khalilzada 5, Ramazanov n/a
Daniel James was the standout performer for Wales against AzerbaijanGetty Images
26’ – GOAL! Real mix up at the back for Azerbaijan as Pashaev puts through his own net after a hit from Bale is deflected.
59’ – GOAL! Mahir Emreli equalises for Azerbaijan. Sloppy mistake by Taylor as he races away. Hennessey makes an initial save but the number 10 is there to pounce. 1-1.
84’ – GOAL! Bale heads home and it just goes over the line! Big goal for Wales!
- Bale has been involved in 19 goals in 19 home games for Wales, with 14 goals and five assists.