Euro 2016: Welsh prove they are not a one-man team
Bale strikes but Welsh team earn the plaudits in heroic triumph
(Gareth Bale 10, Hal Robson-Kanu 81)
(Ondrej Duda 61)
The air of expectation was palpable in the blood red section of the Stade Matmut Atlantique as Gareth Bale stood over the ball.
Moments later, they were bouncing with uninhibited joy, scarcely believing what they just seen.
They were counting on Bale.
And he delivered in emphatic fashion.
Unleashing a wicked swerving free-kick to beat the goalkeeper, the 26-year-old Real Madrid star set Wales on their way to a 2-1 win over Slovakia to open their maiden European Championship campaign with a bang.
But it would be a travesty to credit the win to Bale alone.
On the pitch, there were excellent Welsh performers everywhere.
From the hardworking Jonathan Williams to the reliable Joe Allen to the confident captain Ashley Williams, Wales looked a fine outfit who deserve their place at Euro 2016.
It was a hard-fought win, with Slovakia controlling a fair share of the game with their patient, passing approach.
But no one said it was going to be easy.
In Marek Hamsik, Slovakia have a world-class attacker who was always going to pose a threat.
The 28-year-old Napoli player nearly gave his side the lead in the third minute, when he weaved his way through a sea of players before beating goalkeeper Danny Ward, only for Ben Davies to somehow clear it off the line.
Wales' defence recovered from that loss of concentration and began to look a more composed, organised unit at the back, despite 22-year-old Ward making his first start in goal due to first-choice goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey suffering a back injury.
The Welsh were unlucky not to earn a penalty in the 32nd minute when Slovakia defender Martin Skrtel aimed an elbow at Williams as he bundled the player over in the penalty box.
The Dragons returned from the break looking to protect their lead, but it was the Slovaks who came back breathing fire, instead.
Bale got a chance double his tally in the 57th minute, when poor marking by the opponents gave him space to head an Allen cross goalwards, but it was saved by the custodian Matus Kozacik.
Four minutes later, Slovakia drew level. Ondrej Duda, who had came on as a substitute just moments earlier, needed no second invitation and slotted his low shot into the bottom right corner.
But Wales had the last say, when substitute Hal Robson-Kanu fired in the winner nine minutes from time.
Bale had taken pains to say that Wales are not a one-man team, which many found hard to believe at first.
But he may be right after all.
- WALES: Danny Ward, James Chester, Ashley Williams, Ben Davies, Chris Gunter, David Edwards (Joe Ledley 68), Joe Allen, Neil Taylor, Jonny Williams (Hal Robson-Kanu 70), Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey (Jazz Richards 87)
- SLOVAKIA: Matus Kozacik, Peter Pekarik, Martin Skrtel, Jan Durica, Dusan Svento, Juraj Kucka, Patrik Hrosovsky (Ondrej Duda 59), Robert Mak, Marek Hamsik, Vladimir Weiss (Miroslav Stoch 82), Michal Duris (Adam Nemec 59)