Hal Robson-Kanu scored a late winner as Wales got their Euro 2016 campaign off to a perfect start with victory in Bordeaux.
Wales 2-1 Slovakia
UEFA EURO 2016 - Group B
Stade de Bordeaux
Saturday 11 June 2016
Wales broke the deadlock after just 10 minutes as Gareth Bale’s 30-yard free kick gave the goalkeeper no chance in an impressive first-half showing.
But Slovakia hit back after the break as substitute Ondrej Duda slotted home an equaliser on the hour mark.
However, another substitute - this time Hal Robson-Kanu - stepped up to score the winner with just nine minutes remaining to spark special celebrations amongst the vociferous Welsh support inside the Stade de Bordeaux.
Wales were dealt a blow in the build-up to kick off in Bordeaux as goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was ruled out with a back spasm, leaving Danny Ward to deputise in one four changes to the side that lost to Sweden last weekend.
David Edwards and Joe Allen returned to the midfield alongside Aaron Ramsey, while Gareth Bale led the attack as Chris Coleman’s side lined up for their first game in a major tournament for 58 years.
Bordeaux was a sea of red in the build up as Welsh fans flocked to the French city to witness history in the making, with the fans belting out a passionate rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau before kick off.
But Wales came close to the worst possible start after just three minutes as Marek Hamsik won the ball in midfield before dancing his way past three Welsh defenders, and the Napoli star’s left-foot shot look destined for the back of the net until a superb intervention from Ben Davies saw the defender clear his effort off the line.
However, with ten minutes on the clock, history was made.
After the lively Jonny Williams was fouled 30 yards from goal, Gareth Bale stepped up and saw his superb left-foot strike sail past Slovakia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik and into the net.
That goal settled Wales into the contest as the midfield trio of Allen, Edwards and Ramsey looked like tournament veterans in comparison to their Slovakian opponents.
And Coleman’s men were unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty on 33 minutes as Williams was barged over by Martin Skrtel in the box, but the Norwegian referee Svein Oddvar Moen waved away the protests.
Slovakia improved as the first half drew to a close as Hamsik saw his 25-yard drive blocked by Ashley Williams, while Bale had a curling effort well held by Kozacik at the other end.
Neither side made any changes at the break and despite Wales started the second period brightly, it was Slovakia who came close as Robert Mak was sent clear of the Welsh defence but the winger could only fire his effort over the bar under pressure from Neil Taylor.
But back came Wales and on 57 minutes a Joe Allen cross from the right was met by Bale and his goal-bound header was clawed away by Kozacik at his near post.
With Slovakia looking second best, Jan Kozak made a double change on the hour mark as Michail Duris and Patrik Hrosovsky made way for Adam Nemec and Ondrej Duda.
And it had the desired effect as one of Kozak’s changes made an immediate impact.
Following a surging run from Mak that took him into the box, the winger cut the ball back for Ondrej Duda and the substitute made himself a yard of space before placing a left-foot shot past Danny Ward.
That goal marked Slovakia’s best passage of the game and they came close to a second five minutes later as Juraj Kucka’s 25-yard strike was parried away by Ward.
With Wales on the back foot, Chris Coleman made his first changes with 20 minutes remaining as Joe Ledley and Hal Robson-Kanu replaced David Edwards and Johnny Williams.
And after Robson-Kanu’s cross was headed over from six yards out by Aaron Ramsey soon after, it was the two substitutes that played a decisive role in the crucial moment nine minutes from time.
Joe Ledley played his part in midfield with some neat footwork releasing Ramsey and after the Arsenal man jinked his way into the box the ball broke for Robson-Kanu and the striker saw his left-foot effort roll into the net and spark wild celebrations in the Stade de Bordeaux.
There was still time for Slovakia to respond, and they came mightily close with just five minutes remaining as Adam Nemec saw his header come back off the post.
Gareth Bale saw a shot saved by Kozacik in added time as Wales almost added a third, but Coleman’s men held firm amid special scenes at the full-time whistle as their European Championships got off to the perfect start.
WALES: Ward, Gunter, Taylor, Davies, Chester, Williams (c), Allen, Ramsey (Richards, 88), Edwards (Ledley, 69), Williams (Robson-Kanu, 71), Bale.
SLOVAKIA: Kozacik, Pekarik, Skrtel (c), Durica, Weiss (Stoch, 83), Hrosovsky (Duda, 60), Hamsik, Svento, Kucka, Mak, Duris (Nemec, 59).