Gareth Bale was the hat-trick hero for Cymru on Sunday as the captain secured three valuable qualifying points in a 3-2 victory over Belarus in Kazan.
Belarus 2-3 Cymru
2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier
- Sunday, 5 September 2021
- Central Stadium, Kazan, Russia
Cymru made a positive start to the match with Dan James influential to their attacking play as Belarus were forced to defend deeply. Within the opening five minutes, Belarus goalkeeper Syarhey Chernik brought down Bale in the area after the Cymru captain had lifted the ball over him, and he made no mistake from the resulting spot-kick to score his first away goal for his country since March 2018.
Despite looking comfortable in possession and good value for the lead, Belarus levelled from a penalty of their own on 28 minutes after Chris Gunter misjudged the ball on the heavy Kazan surface and was penalised for a high boot on Nikolai Zolotov with an added suggestion of handball. Following a VAR check, the impressive Vitali Lisakovich converted to level the score.
Cymru were clearly rattled by the goal and within two minutes Belarus capitalised on some poor defending to take the lead as Lisakovitch found Pavel Sedko in space in the area and he slotted the ball past goalkeeper Danny Ward. With Cymru's attacking momentum lost and Belarus visibly lifted from turning the game around, Vladislav Klimovich came close to adding a third before half-time but his curling effort went narrowly wide of the post.
Brennan Johnson tested Chernik on 51 minutes with a superb strike that the goalkeeper had to tip over the bar as Cymru started the second half in the same was as they started the first, but the defensive line of the Belarusians remained resolute as they looked to hold onto their lead, leaving Page's side increasingly frustrated as they failed to turn their possession into clear-cut chances on goal.
Cymru finally equalised on 69 minutes when referee Giorgi Kruashvili awarded the third penalty of the match as Ben Davies was brought down by Max Ebong. Bale again took on the responsibility from the spot and duly scored his second of the match. However, despite Cymru appearing to have taken back control of the game, Belarus came close to regaining the lead on 78 minutes when Artem Bykov shot narrowly wide.
Bale came close to sealing the victory on 87 minutes but his free-kick went wide of Chernik's left-hand post, while Lisakovitch tested Ward a minute later as both teams went in search of a winning goal in the final moments. But there was a twist deep into injury time as Bale secured his hat-trick as he volleyed past Chernik after substitute Mark Harris had seen his effort saved.
Adversity challenge – Cymru went into this match with 13 players unavailable for reasons ranging from injury and suspension to Covid isolation and visa issues. Coupled with the administrative and travel logistics of playing the second of three games in Russia, it was the case of making the best of a bad situation for Rob Page and his squad. To add to these additional challenges, a heavy playing surface at the Centralniy Stadium did little to help Cymru's style of play and restricted the effectiveness of players like Dan James and Brennan Johnson. To claim a win in such circumstances is credit to all involved.
New generation – The pathway system continues to produce for Cymru and there were competitive starts for Brennan Johnson and Rubin Colwill after both players impressed in the 0-0 draw against Finland last week. This was a valuable experience for the duo, and they will have put themselves in Rob Page's selection plans moving forward over the course of these last two games. Mark Harris replaced Colwill for his senior international debut on the hour mark, and made a positive contribution in what proved to be a difficult match, almost scoring the winner before Bale completed his hat-trick.
Bale back in the goals – Gareth Bale's last goal for his country was in October 2019, while his last away goal for Cymru was in March 2018 when he eclipsed Ian Rush's goalscoring record with a hat-trick against China. Converting from the penalty spot twice after missing his previous spot-kick against Italy at the EURO finals before adding a dramatic injury-time winner, his goals in Kazan brought this particular drought to an end in style, even though his assist record has been crucial to what the side have achieved since his goal against Croatia in Cardiff.
Rob Page labelled this a 'must-win' match before kick-off, but it seemed that Cymru would be forced to settle for a share of the points after two minutes of poor defending in the opening half allowed Belarus to score twice and take the lead. However, Gareth Bale once again proved to be the difference between the two sides as his late winner rounded-off his second international hat-trick and earned his side victory in dramatic style.
These are the type of games that can define a qualifying campaign, and the confidence and belief that Cymru will take from this match against the adversity that has affected the side over the last two weeks will be an inspiration ahead of the next match against Estonia on Wednesday night. Bale has a clear determination to take Cymru to the finals of the World Cup next year, and performances like this can make that dream a reality.
Belarus XI: Chernik (GK)(c), Shetsov, Khadarevich, Bykov, Ebong (Podstrelov 73), Zolotov, Begunov (Shauchenka 78), V.Lisakovich (Skavysh 90), Sedko (Yuzepchuk 73), Sachivko, Kilmovich. Subs: Stepanov (GK), Pavlyuchenko (GK), Pechenin, Rakhmanov, Grechikho, R.Lisakovich, Kontsevoi, Antilevski.
Manager: Georgi Kondratiev.
Goals: V.Lisakovich (28 pen), Sedko (30).
Cymru XI: Ward (GK), Gunter, Davies, Mepham, Allen, Johnson (Williams 63), Bale (c), Colwill (Harris 57), Lawrence, Morrell, James. Subs: Hennessey (GK), King (GK), Lockyer, Sheehan, Norrington-Davies, Smith, Woodburn, Levitt.
Manager: Rob Page.
Goals: Bale (5 pen), (69 pen), (90+3).
Referee: Giorgi Kruashvili (GEO) Assistant referees: Zaza Pipia (GEO) & David Chigogidze (GEO) Fourth official: Irakli Kvirikashvili (GEO) VAR: Paolo Valeri (ITA) Assistant VAR: Giacomo Paganessi (ITA)