A 2-1 win in Cardiff.
Ten man Wales produced a magnificent defiant display to maintain their position at the head of Euro 2016 group B, still unbeaten after three matches and with real hopes now of qualification.
Wales had stormed into a two goal lead and could have had a few more before Cyprus pulled one back before the break.
The game changed dramatically minutes into the second period when Andy King was sent-off. From then on, Wales were forced into furious defence, protecting their slender lead, and the fact that they achieved their goal says much for the team spirit now deeply ingrained into this young side by boss Chris Coleman.
With Jonathan Williams, badly battered during the Bosnia game on Friday, out injured, Wales opted for Fulham’s 19 year-old George Williams, who came in for his fourth cap. Wales also opted for a back four and left out Ben Davies, allowing Coleman to play an extra forward in Hal Robson-Kanu.
Wales got off to a very unfortunate start losing Simon Church after just one minute. He was heavily shoved to the ground by Charis Kyriakou, an incident not punished by German referee Manuel Grafe. The Charlton striker fell badly on his left shoulder, and after lengthy treatment was helped off to the dressing room, David Cotterill coming on as substitute.
Three minutes later Gareth Bale was crudely cut down in full flow by Marios Nikolaou, who was booked for the foul with Wales players furious over the challenge. Bale got up to fire in a dipping 25 yard free-kick that Tasos Kissas saved at the second attempt.
But Wales were ahead on 13 minutes. Cotterill’s dangerous, swirling ball in from the left evaded Robson-Kanu’s dive and sailed into the far corner with Kissas flat-footed. Bale soon had Kissas flapping again, another low drive being fumbled away.
Wales were clicking into gear now, and flying at the Cypriot defence. A second was on the cards and it arrived after 23 minutes. King’s accurate long pass out of defence was met with a stunning Bale flick that sent Robson-Kanu clean through the defence to drill the ball under Kissas.
Cyprus lost full-back Dossa Junior to injury, replaced by Angelis Angelis after 29 minutes. Six minutes later saw the visitors back in the game after Cotterill was booked for a foul on Kyriakou, and when Vincent Laban’s swirling free-kick came into a packed six yard box, Wayne Hennessey could get only a touch of his gloves on the ball as it found the far corner.
Angelis was soon booked for a foul on Williams, and Bale’s 25 yard free-kick was clawed away by Kisssas, with Joe Ledley seeing his follow-up header cleared off the line by Giorgos Merkis. Cotterill and Bale could both have added to the score in first-half injury time.
It had been a pulsating first-half, and Wales will have been kicking themselves for not maintaining their two-goal lead, or even extending it, so much of the attacking had flowed from them.
Wales’ concerns worsened two minutes into the second period when King was sent-off for a challenge on Constantinos Makridis, which connected with the Cyprus captain’s ankle right in front of referee Grafe.
The whole complexion of the game had now changed. Wales sent on an extra midfielder, Wolves’ David Edwards and the energetic George Williams was sacrificed. Bale had virtually a free role, with Cotterill and Robson-Kanu pushed back into midfield.
Cyprus then had Pieros Sotiriou booked for an off the ball incident with Ashley Williams, before Nektarios Alexandrou came on for Marios Nikolaou as the visitors continued to press.
Wales chances had diminished, but Bale did get away to roll a shot agonisingly along the line from an acute angle.
Cyprus were getting closer, and George Efrem headed over from six yards out, unmarked.Wales then replaced Robson-Kanu with Jake Taylor, the Reading man winning his first cap. Cyprus sent on Andreas Papathanasiou for |Angelis before Kyriakou was booked for bringing down Bale on the edge of the box, and then Markis for body checking the Wales hero.
In those final, dramatic minutes, Edwards was booked for a foul and Bale won three consecutive corners in a keep-ball session by the corner flag.
Four minutes of injury time dragged, but the 21,273 crowd erupted when the final whistle went and Bale, who had seen three Cypriots booked for fouling him, stood in the centre of the pitch and screamed his delight into the night sky.
Post Match Interviews.
Following the difficult three hard earned points, Wales manager Chris Coleman spoke with WPL reporter Robert Clement, with him please to have secured the second victory of the campaign.
“I can look back with enjoyment now, it wasn’t very enjoyable at the time, but it’s a great way to win it. I was disappointed for Andy King and it’s not really his fault; we were firing the lads up for the last two games, and you get your tackle wrong, and I was possibly a little disappointed really with the decision”.
“Alright, the red card is shown, but one or two of those Cyprus players could have been sent off also. I was concerned with some of the treatment Gareth Bale got, but the players were magnificent again, and it’s two games in four days. It’s difficult, because it took a lot out of them on Friday night, so then you have to regroup and freshen them up for tonight, in a game with a massive three points for us. You look at Cyprus, Israel and Andorra at home; those are points that are vitally important”.
Coleman responded to the inspired start, with the introduction and amazing impact of substitute David Cotterill.
“He was absolutely magnificent and hat’s off to him, he’s been with us once in the last couple of years really, but he’s done a great job for Birmingham City; Kit Symons has been watching him with him doing great, cutting inside and his delivery is fantastic, and we’ve got that off him tonight, plus defensively, especially when we went down to ten men he was outstanding, the shift he put in and Hal Robson-Kanu, whose probably not been playing for Reading, having recently been injured he’s come back, and to put that performance in says a lot for both players”,
“They are possibly two unheralded players, and they’ve delivered. That’s what we have to be about, we constantly talk about who we haven’t got, we now need to start concentrating on who we have got and give those boy’s praise for when they do things like that, and I think that’s one game in eight that we’ve lost, we’ve not lost here for a year, so there has to be something going right for that to happen”.
“We’re topping the group; it’s the highest we’ve been for twenty years in the rankings. We’re not getting carried away, but credit where it’s due, and it’s down to the players who were fantastic”.
Coleman agreed that the players showed a different side this evening, not just to hold on, but to actually restrict Cyprus to really one chance, after having gone down to ten men”.
“Absolutely, we know that we can be very good in possession, we can be slick keeping the ball. It’s the other side that we need to improve upon, and we done so hugely as a group and outfit, backing each other up, being gritty when we have to. I think that’s one of the big reasons why Andy King got sent off, he just wants to get in and win the ball, and perhaps the timing of the challenge was wrong, and he’s had a red card”.
“To a man, the lads during the last two games have been absolutely magnificent, four points from two games. We said this game is a three pointer, we need it and it makes the point on Friday night even better, and the players produced again”.
Some of the treatment Gareth Bale was taking tonight, they said that there would be no special measures for him, but the first challenge, it is a danger to him isn’t it.
“It’s obvious it’s the first man to him, the closest one that can put him on his backside, and he knows that its coming and we all do. I’m not complaining about Cyprus or Bosnia-Herzegovina, the referee is there to say free-kick and if it’s continuous it’s a card, and if the same player does it again he’s off”.
“That happened with more than one player who was kicking him, but we go to other countries and if we’re in someone else’s back yard some of the challenges we put in, if they’re a little bit contentious they go against us”.
“Why are we any different, so if that’s going to be the case, and we’re in our back yard maybe we need a bit of protection; we’re not getting that, but through adversity you gain strength, and our boy’s are getting on with it, getting points. We’re not getting help from the officials, we know that, but we’re just doing it ourselves and maybe that’s the best way”.
“We now go to Belgium as group leaders for another huge game. We have to go there and get at least a point, and we’re good enough to do just that; maybe it’s not going to be that easy because they’re a great team, and people think that it’s going to be them and Bosnia-Herzegovina and us, but we are going to have a say in it”.
“I’m quite sure that the squad I pick won’t be the squad I end up working with, because it never works out that way. I don’t lose sleep anymore; I’m confident in the group of players we’ve got and if we have players missing, the lads that have come in for us will be fantastic”.
“I know that in Belgium there will be a huge Welsh following, and we must not let them down, and we haven’t for some time, and we have to continue with that”,
“It’s been like the old days tonight and last Friday. I remember that walking out as a player; two big games in four day’s is hard for the supporters, it’s expensive and also a school night. The support we had down from north Wales on Friday night was phenomenal and it’s hard for them to do that. With the National Anthem the fans got behind us and that had an important impact, which was absolutely brilliant”.
“They got us over the line, during the last ten minutes where we were fighting and scrapping, every tackle we won, every time the ball went out for a throw the referee gave it to us, every header and cross, the fans were on their feet cheering the lads on”.
Gareth Bale was later asked if he agreed that he really did have to work hard for the three points.
“Yes, it’s not all plain sailing in any game, and we didn’t have the greatest of luck with the sending off of Andy King, but the team spirit is incredible, we showed that on the pitch, and we fully deserved to win I thought”.
“We were confident that we could hold on with ten men because I felt that we had pace on the counter attack to get them, and I think that they were aware of that, so they kept a few back, which obviously helped us with them going forward, so it was a different game in difficult circumstances, but we came through it, and showed the togetherness in the team”.
“From what I saw on the pitch I don’t think that Andy King deserved the red card, that’s why I had a look back at the referee and unfortunately got booked, but for me it wasn’t, but when the decision is made you have to get your head down and get on with it, and we definitely did that”.
Bale then spoke about the challenge on him during the opening few minute and a few others afterwards.
“Yes, you hope that you would get the same treatment, but as I’ve said I haven’t seen the sending off, and I’m sure that a few of them should have got a bit more than that”.
They said that special measures were not going to be taken against you, but they could have fooled me.
“Yes, but you just have to dust yourself off and go again, and everybody did just that”.
Everyone stepped up tonight, especially with the finishing of David Cotterill and Hal Robson-Kanu.
“That’s right, the players that are coming in now, we’ve got a good depth, and whoever comes in now is doing a fantastic job. We’ve got a lot of injuries and we haven’t moaned once, we’ve just got on with it”.
Top of the group and with Belgium next, Bale was asked how he looks at the situation now.
“I think that the minimum amount of points we wanted from these two games was four. We knew that Bosnia-Herzegovina was going to be a difficult team, with a point being a good result, and we definitely thought that we could beat Cyprus tonight, obviously under difficult circumstances, but we got the job done which is the most important thing, and maybe in different campaigns we wouldn’t have won tonight”.
With the motto Together and Stronger behind him, Bale was asked if he thought that the team really showed something different.
“Yes, we’ve turned the corner, I think that when we come together for Wales everybody loves being there, the banter is flying, everybody is getting along together and there’s no single group. Everyone is having a laugh at each other, and it shows on the pitch that we are all fighting for every ball, and it can be seen in the results we are getting”.
With David David Cotterill having got Wales up and running with the opening goal, he was asked if he thought that he’d offered a claim for a place in the team, following a good performance.
“I’m just happy to be in the squad, my form for Birmingham City has been good and obviously with my team-mates it has helped me along the way, and as I say it’s always nice to play for Wales”.
“It was great to get the first goal, I just put the ball in the danger area and everyone seemed to miss it, but it’s nice that it went into the back of the net”.
Cotterill was asked if he agreed that there’s a great togetherness in the team, and if he sensed that the public were really getting behind the team.
“Certainly, every time we come together we all seem to get on well, and it’s definitely changed since Gary Speed took over when he started this all off really with all the togetherness, and Chris Coleman has taken it on board as well, and it’s improving”.
“I think that people want to get to France in Gary’s memory I guess, and hopefully it will happen because he was a great man, and everyone here is working extremely hard for each other to do just that”.
With seven points being the best start that Wales has made for a decade, Cotterill agreed that it was a good feeling and opportunity to qualify.
“Certainly, we have to keep grounded and don’t get too carried away, because we know that we have a tough next game and hopefully we can get something out of that”.
“We’ve got a few players that are absent, and it shows probably the depth in the squad where we can bring players in and obviously do well also”.
“We wanted to get a good start and we’ve managed to get that, but we’re not getting carried away, we’re just going to take each game as it comes, and hopefully we can do something good”.
“The crowd tonight was first class, and also with us having a full house last Friday, so hopefully the attendances will continue to get better. With a performance like that this evening I hope that it’s a reminder to Chris Coleman that I’m still in contention. I want to play for my country, and hopefully tonight will make sure that I’m fit and available for the next game”.