Wales open Euro 2016 campaign with win over Slovakia
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Gareth Bale had to rearrange his hair bun twice on Saturday night. First after he was mobbed by teammates celebrating his 10th minute strike which gave Wales the lead against Slovakia.
It was his country’s first goal at a major competition for 58 years. His second restyling came when he scuffled with Slovakia’s defenders Martin Skrtel and Jan Durica towards the end of the match.
By the time of that collision, Wales were just about hanging on. Slovakia were in the ascendance after second-half substitute Ondrej Duda had cancelled out Bale’s opener.
But Wales grabbed the glory nine minutes from time. Aaron Ramsey surged towards the penalty area, he slipped and as he tried to regain his balance, Skrtel fell and the ball was nudged into the path of Hal Robson-Kanu. His scuffed shot trickled past the Slovakia keeper Matus Kozacik.
“We knew we could score once we started playing our game,” said midfielder Vladimir Weiss after the match. “We were on top and could have scored a second but they slowed the game down and got the second goal. They had a bit of luck.”
What couldn’t be credited to chance was the application of the Wales players from superstar Bale to less garlanded team mates such as Jonathan Williams and skipper Ashley Williams. They ran, harried and hassled the Slovakians who could have taken an early lead.
In the third minute, Marek Hamsik slalomed past three defenders and guided the ball under advancing keeper Danny Ward. Ben Davies scooped clear on the goal line.
Reprieved, Bale struck directly from a free kick awarded after Jonathan Williams was fouled 30 metres out. The Real Madrid star adopted a pose reminiscent of his Madrid team mate Cristiano Ronaldo, advanced on the ball and curled it past Kozacik who appeared deceived by the flight.
“When the big games come around we’ve shown that we can cope,” said Jonathan Williams. “We showed that in the qualifiers for this tournament against the likes of Belgium. We don’t let teams breathe. The fitness levels of the boys is outstanding along with the desire and heart and the buzz of the fans, it gives us something extra.”
The Stade de Bordeaux has a capacity of just over 42,000. More than 37,000 spectators witnessed Wales’s re-entry into high level competition. Most of them were in the red of Wales. The red of Bordeaux might well accompany their revelry as they follow their players to Lens for Thursday's clash against England.