Aaron Ramsey and Connor Roberts were the goalscoring heroes for Cymru on Wednesday as Rob Page's side claimed a crucial 2-0 win over Turkey in Baku.
UEFA EURO 2020
Turkey 0-2 Cymru
- Ramsey 42' Roberts 95'
- Olympic Stadium, Baku
Although the temperature was cooler for the evening kick-off than in the 1-1 draw against Switzerland last weekend, Cymru turned up the heat with an impressive performance headlined by the combination play of Ramsey and Gareth Bale that Turkey simply failed to handle. Even Bale's penalty miss on the hour couldn't knock them off their stride as Cymru showed their true character and embraced the pressure of occasion.
Cymru showed a clear intention in the opening exchanges with Ramsey and Bale combining early on with Ramsey denied by goalkeeper Uğurcan Çakır after just six minutes. The pace of Daniel James was a major positive from the draw against Switzerland, and he again showed his value to the team as he crossed for Kieffer Moore but the striker could only head over the bar.
At the other end, Danny Ward saved from Cengiz Ünder as the game became stretched as early as the 15th minute with both teams looking to gain the early advantage, and Cymru should have gone ahead when Ramsey headed the ball back to Moore from the far post but his effort was blocked by Çağlar Söyüncü from close range. On 24 minutes, Bale again found Ramsey in space, but the Juventus midfielder failed to hit the target with only Çakır to beat.
With both teams asking questions on the counter-attack, Joe Morrell had to be at his best to head clear off the line from Kaan Ayhan, but Cymru would take a deserved lead just minutes before half-time. A perfect run from Ramsey was complimented by a superb ball from Bale over the top of the Turkish defence, and Ramsey made no mistake with this opportunity to slot the ball past Çakır from close range.
Turkey made two changes at the break in order to try and disrupt the control that Cymru had in the final third, and they made a strong start to the 2nd half as Cengiz Ünder and Hakan Çalhanoğlu both had chances to bring parity to the scoreline, before captain Burak Yılmaz volleyed over the bar after 54 minutes. It would prove to be Turkey's best spell as Cymru settled back into the game with Joe Allen and Joe Morrell pivotal figures in the midfield.
A key incident occurred on the hour mark as Zeki Çelik brought down Bale in the area, but after dusting himself down, Bale surprisingly cleared the crossbar from the spot. The miss clearly rattled the side as Kaan Ayhan and Yılmaz created chances at the other end, but Cymru soon recovered and regained control to leave Turkey frustrated as Bale and Ramsey continued to combine with devastating effect.
An altercation between both sets of players in injury-time followed a foul on Joe Rodon by Yılmaz as the intensity of the contest spilled over. The game appeared over when Cymru earned a second corner deep into stoppage time, but instead of holding out with a one goal advantage, Bale found Connor Roberts in space in the area and the defender made no mistake for his second goal for his country to seal the win.
When Ramsey and Bale combine – Aaron Ramsey put in one of his best performances in the colours of his country and his individual display was complimented by his link-up play with Gareth Bale. The influential duo have been the headline makers for this team over the course of the last decade, but showed on Wednesday just how brilliant they can be when they take to the field together with the dragon on their chest. Few teams in the tournament would be able to contain them on days like this.
Defending from the front – At one moment late in the game, Aaron Ramsey made a last ditch tackle in his own area. Often dropping back to support Joe Allen and Joe Morrell and ensure that they were not outnumbered in midfield as they often were against Switzerland, this was a team effort from front to back. Meanwhile, the back four clearly have a developing relationship which restricted Turkey largely to half chances, and goalkeeper Danny Ward was again at his best in the final moments.
The Red Bricks – There may not have been enough of them for a Red Wall, but the Cymru fans that made the long journey to Baku were determined not to be drowned out by the large Turkish support at the Olympic Stadium. Displaying all the necessary dedication, passion and commitment, the fans epitomised everything this team needed on a difficult afternoon. From the anthem to the final whistle, the belief of the Cymru fans in their team never wavered, and it inspired those on the field to deliver the victory they craved.
“I'm absolutely delighted with the win. We fought hard, we worked our socks off like we always do. We needed that victory more than anything and second goal at the end was the icing on the cake. We've always linked up well (with Aaron Ramsey) since our early days. We needed that win today, it puts us in a great position. We're just delighted. We have to wait to see what happens but we're in a fantastic position now. The Wales fans were incredible again, they made it loud and they made us keep going.” - Captain Gareth Bale speaking to BBC Sport.
“To be playing for Wales at a major competition is the pinnacle for me to be honest, and to pop up and score is just unbelievable, incredible. It's a big step towards going through but there's another massive game against Italy on Sunday. The plan was to win and try and play well and I think we've done that. We know what they (Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey) bring to the team so we just have to give them the ball and I think we did that well tonight.” - Connor Roberts speaking to BBC Sport.
“I had two opportunities before that to score so the goal was a relief. I thought our performance in the first half was superb and we dominated the play. We showed great character in the second half to dig in and we thoroughly deserved the win in the end. We didn't panic, we dug in, we worked hard for each other and that's what brought success over the last few years. We've given ourselves a brilliant opportunity now.” - Aaron Ramsey speaking to BBC Sport.
“What a great feeling. There was so much riding on the game, it was a great chance for us, and we took that chance with both hands. We started great and created chances throughout the game, and I thought we were well worth the win and could have got a couple more goals. We're a confident group, a group that enjoys the underdog take. We've given ourselves a great chance now.” - Joe Allen speaking to BBC Sport.
“I couldn't be more proud of the players. To create the amount of chances that we've created against a very good team in Turkey is unbelievable. We're disappointed we didn't score more goals, but to win it in the manner that we did then credit goes to the players, they were outstanding. It was a different opposition (to Switzerland), but that's no disrespect to Turkey, but the first game is difficult in a tournament and we knew we had more to come. When we play like that we don't fear anyone.” - Manager Rob Page speaking to BBC Sport.
Turkey arrived in Baku with point to prove after their heavy defeat against Italy, while Cymru returned to action with a point to prove after their limited performance against Switzerland. Rob Page's decision to keep faith with the same starting line-up brought the desired response, and this was a collectively brilliant effort in terms of performance and character. Aaron Ramsey delivered a performance of exceptional quality that reminded everyone just what has been missing over the last couple of years.
Cymru started the match with an assertive energy in their attacking play and it set the tone for a memorable performance and result. The celebrations at the final whistle brought back memories of EURO 2016 as the side defied the odds, but this tournament is not about repeating the past. This is a new generation inspired by past success, and this display showed that a new and exciting chapter in the history of the national team is starting to evolve, and not even Bale's penalty miss could tarnish the spirit of this display.
Cymru XI: Ward (GK), B.Davies, Rodon, Allen (Ampadu 73), Ramsey (Wilson 85), Bale (c), Moore, C.Roberts, Morrell, James (N.Williams 90), Mepham.
Subs: Hennessey (GK), Davies (GK), Gunter, Lockyer, T.Roberts,, Norrington-Davies, J.Williams, Brooks, Levitt.
Cymru team selections are notoriously difficult to predict but Rob Page decided to keep with the same starting line-up from the 1-1 draw against Switzerland, and with it continue with a back four rather than revert to a three-man defence.
Turkey XI: Çakır (GK), Çelik, Söyüncü, Yokuşlu (Demiral 46), Tufan (Yazıcı 46), Ünder (Kahveci 83), Karaman (Dervişoğlu 75), Çalhanoğlu, Meraş (Müldür 72), Yılmaz, Ayhan.
Subs: Günok (GK), Bayındır (GK), Toköz, Antalyalı, Kabak, Kökçü, Aktürkoğlu.
Despite the comprehensive nature of their 3-0 defeat to Italy in the opening game, manager Şenol Güneş opted to make just two changes to his starting line-up as Cengiz Ünder and Kaan Ayhan replaced Merih Demiral and Yusuf Yazıcı.