CARDIFF: Gareth Bale scored two goals and created another as Euro 2016 sensations Wales crushed Moldova 4-0 in their opening 2018 World Cup qualifier in Cardiff on Monday. The Real Madrid forward teed up Sam Vokes for a 38th-minute opener and then scored his 23rd and 24th international goals after Joe Allen had registered his first.
Chris Coleman’s Wales reached the semi-finals at Euro 2016 before losing to eventual champions Portugal and are seeking to qualify for their first World Cup since 1958. “We had to get off to a good start in the first game,” said Wales manager Coleman. “It was going to be tough and we had to be patient and disciplined, and we were. “We had a good level of professionalism and the supporters were great. The players got the ball and could have scored more.”
Victory at the Cardiff City Stadium made Wales the early pace-setters in UEFA qualifying Group D, which also features Austria, Serbia, the Republic of Ireland and Georgia. Wales tackle Austria in Vienna in their next game on October 6. Bale, 27, is now the secondhighest scorer in Wales history, four goals behind former Liverpool striker Ian Rush. “We know these games are very difficult,” Bale told Sky Sports. “The teams can be difficult to break down, but we’re learning to cope with that sort of play. “We enjoyed the past, but it’s history now and it’s time to make some more.”
Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey missed Wales’s Euro semi-final defeat by Portugal through suspension and he was absent again against Moldova, this time due to a hamstring injury. Coleman made only two changes to the team that had lined up in Lyon, with Ben Daviessuspended that evening-and Vokes replacing James Collins and Hal Robson-Kanu. Ranked 165th in the world and having never reached a major tournament, Igor Dobrovolski’s Moldova accepted the role of would-be party poopers with relish.
The visitors packed men behind the ball in a 5-4-1 formation and exploited Israeli referee Liran Liany’s leniency by breaking up Wales’s rhythm with cynical fouls. But a flash of Bale’s left boot yielded the breakthrough, the Real Madrid star whipping a glorious cross into the box from the right that Vokes steered past goalkeeper Ilie Cebanu with his head. It was 2-0 before half-time as Stoke City new boy Allen broke his international duck in the 44th minute. After shovelling a shot from Bale around his right-hand post, Cebanu flapped at Joe Ledley’s corner and Allen clipped the loose ball through a thicket of players and into the net.
Bale added a third early in the second half, seizing upon a calamitous back-pass by Ion Jardan and racing through to loft a shot over Cebanu. Robson-Kanu, scorer of the goal that inspired Wales’s Euro quarter-final victory over Belgium, came on as a late substitute for Vokes to make his first appearance of the season. After Cebanu had thwarted Robson-Kanu, Bale made it 4-0 from the penalty spot in stoppage time after he had been bundled over inside the box. “If Wales had been so much better, I’d congratulate them,” said Moldova coach Dobrovolski. “But they scored four times because of our mistakes. In games like this, you can’t make such childish mistakes.” — AFP