By Kim Swift
- Hal Robson-Kanu nails winner in 80th minute; Gareth Bale delivers stunning early free kick
- Substitute Ondrej Duda scores for Slovakia less than two minutes after coming on
- Wales denied penalty shout in first half
BORDEAUX, FRANCE – Hal Robson-Kanu scored the winning goal for Wales after Gareth Bale’s early lead was cancelled out in a dramatic and pulsating game.
The Welsh party began 10 minutes in when their talisman Bale drove home a fabulous early free kick. The match turned on its head when Ondrej Duda drove home with half an hour to go, before Robson-Kanu sealed victory late on.
After a passionate rendition of Land of My Fathers it was almost a disastrous start for Wales, with Ben Davies forced to save off the line after three minutes. Just seven minutes later Jonny Williams was brought down 30 yards out and Bale delivered, powering his shot past Matúš Kozáčik.
Slovakia seemed stunned by the turnaround and failed to test Danny Ward – a late replacement for the injured Wayne Hennessey – in the first half.
They were constantly threatening though, if clearly frustrated – Williams found himself on the receiving end of a number of heavy challenges. Wales were denied a penalty half an hour in when Martin Škrtel put an elbow in the midfielder’s face directly in front of the linesman, whose eyes must have been firmly on the ball to have missed it.
The half time whistle followed opportunities at either end – Bale’s sweeping shot comfortably saved and Škrtel missing a chance with seconds to go – but the best was yet to come.
A more balanced second half saw both teams on the attack. With the noise level rising at the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bale’s low driven header forced a great diving save from Kozáčik in the 58th minute. Wales looked to be gaining the upper hand until Duda equalised 52 seconds after coming off the bench, the definition of an impact substitution.
Both sides missed chances to take the lead in a thrilling last half hour. Ramsey and Róbert Mak both shot over the bar before Ramsey’s wonderful pass set up Robson-Kanu, who snuck in a slightly miscued shot. It was a scruffy finale, but good enough to give Wales their first international tournament victory in 58 years.
The Home Nations’ opening salvoes continue as England take on Russia at 8pm (BST) tonight. The Three Lions will look to take the focus away from their fans and back to football with a victory to open their campaign.
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