Gareth Bale scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner for his hat-trick as Wales kept their World Cup dreams on track with a 3-2 triumph over Belarus.
Clattered inside the box after just five minutes, Bale scored from the resulting penalty for his first goal in 17 matches to give Wales an early lead in Kazan, Russia.
It was just the start Wales would have wanted after their preparations were disrupted by several injuries and visa problems for a match switched to a neutral venue.
World Cup Qualification UEFA
Moore keeps Wales’ World Cup hopes alive with victory in Estonia
11/10/2021 AT 17:53
But then, out of nowhere, Belarus turned the game on its head with two goals in just 92 first-half seconds as Wales paid the penalty for two defensive errors. Vitali Lisakovich made no mistake from the spot after Chris Gunter committed a clumsy foul to level the scores. And only moments later, the Belarusian goalscorer turned provider to set up Pavel Sedko for a tap-in as Wales were dragged out of shape.
Despite their positive start, things turned ugly for Wales and they suffered two more huge let-offs before the break as Aleksandr Sachivko and Vladislav Klimovich missed gilt-edged chances.
Brennan Johnson almost drew his country level with a fine effort on his first competitive start as Wales improved immediately after the restart.
But it took a defensive mistake for them to draw level midway through the second half when Ben Davies was tripped inside the box and Bale - having failed to score in almost two years - netted his second from the spot.
And just when it looked like Wales would have to settle for a point, Bale grabbed his hat-trick to give his side all three points.

TALKING POINT - Bale to the rescue

In a group containing Belgium and Czech Republic, a loss - even a draw - would have thrown Wales' World Cup dreams into major doubt.
Everything seemed to be against them, even before kick-off when the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Harry Wilson and Kieffer Moore were ruled out of the tie. Having made a six-hour trip to Russia where they were met with a difficult surface, Wales shot themselves in the foot with a defensive mess in the first half, and even in the second half, when they were chasing much-needed points, a lot of their attacking play looked unconvincing.
But when you have a world-class player in Bale, anything is possible. You can question his loyalty to Real Madrid, but his commitment to his country should never be in doubt. The 32-year-old is desperate to play in a World Cup, and thanks to his heroics, Wales remain on track to make it to Qatar.

MAN OF THE MATCH - Gareth Bale (Wales)

Despite his advancing years, Bale's influence for Wales shows no sign of waning. Putting the missed penalty at the Euros to the back of his mind, he showed composure to score twice from the spot. But he saved the best to last, netting a dramatic winner with a low shot to spark wild celebrations amongst team mates and staff.

PLAYER RATINGS

Wales: Ward 6, Gunter 5, Mepham 5, Lawrence 5, Davies 6, Allen 7, Morrell 5, Johnson 6, Bale 8*, James 7, Colwill 5.. subs: Williams 6, Harris 6.
Belarus: Chernik 5, Shvetsov 5, Khadarkevich 5, Sachivko 5, Zolotov 6, Begunov 5, Ebong 5, Bykov 5, Klimovich 7, Sedko 6, V Lisakovich 7.. subs: Shauchenka 5, Skavysh N/A, Yuzepchuk 5, Podstrelov 5.

KEY MOMENTS

6' - GOAL! Belarus 0-1 Wales (Gareth Bale, pen): As cool as you like, Bale sends the goalkeeper the wrong way as he puts the ball into the bottom right corner. That ends his run of 16 matches without a goal for his country!
28' - GOAL! Belarus 1-1 Wales (Vitali Lisakovich, pen): It's all level here in Kazan as Lisakovich hammers it into the left corner. Ward dives the correct way but there's no stopping that.
31' - GOAL! Belarus 2-1 Wales (Pavel Sedko): Oh my, in a matter of minutes Belarus have turned this game on its head! Colwill loses the ball in midfield and from there Belarus split their defence open all too easily, scorer Lisakovich turning provider as he squares it to Sedko who slots it home.
69' - GOAL! Belarus 2-2 Wales (Gareth Bale, pen): Bale stutters in his run-up and as the goalkeeper commits, he slides it down the middle to level the scores once more!
90'+4 - GOAL! Belarus 2-3 Wales (Gareth Bale): Oh my, Bale wins it deep into stoppage-time! He makes good contact with a low shot and it squirms into the net to send the Wales bench crazy! It's a huge moment as Wales look to have snatched all three points right at the death!

KEY STATS

  • Gareth Bale is the first Wales player to score a hat-trick for the national side since Bale himself against China in March 2018.
  • There were just 92 seconds between Belarus' equaliser and their second goal to take the lead against Wales - which were from both of their first two shots on target of the match.
World Cup Qualification UEFA
Wales held by Czech Republic in fight for second Group E spot
08/10/2021 AT 18:02
World Cup Qualification UEFA
Away fans unable to attend September's European internationals as UEFA and FIFA cite 'COVID spikes'
12/08/2021 AT 09:07