Bale puts Wales on cusp of history while Dutch disaster continues
Gareth Bale’s ferocious header helped dispatch Cyprus 1-0 and put Wales within touching distance of qualifying for Euro 2016, their first major tournament since 1958, while the Netherlands’ disastrous spell continued in a potentially fatal defeat to Iceland.
Chris Coleman’s Welsh Dragons now sit in pole position of Group B, ahead of rivals Belgium, and know three points against Israel will secure a historic qualification, with the Bale-inspired nation 13/8 with Coral to end 2015 ranked higher than England in the official FIFA standings.
The hero once again was the world’s most expensive star Bale, as he struck his sixth goal in seven qualifying outings to edge Wales close to a place in France next summer.
“We’ve never done it so I’m guessing it’s going to be hard,” stated Bale. “But this group is focused, we really know what we need to do and hopefully we can deliver on Sunday.
“It would probably be the best thing we’ve achieved. If we can get across the line it’ll be an amazing thing, not just for us but the whole nation and the whole of Welsh football.
“We know what’s coming. All out attention has been focused on the Cyprus game, we haven’t thought about the Israel game at all.
“That’s the good thing about this team, we haven’t taken our eyes off the ball once.”
The Welsh had not gained a victory in Cyprus since 1992, but Bale’s bullet header with only eight minutes remaining on the clock earned a potentially historic three points, after jumping highest to connect with Jazz Richards’ pinpoint cross.
Belgium were seen as clear favourites to rally to a Group B victory, but Bale’s heroics have saw their chances of doing so knocked back, and the Red Devils are now 13/8 to finish ahead of a determined Wales at the summit.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands’ chances of automatic qualification suffered a hammer blow, as Danny Blind’s Dutchmen stumbled to a 1-0 loss at the hands of Iceland. Bruno Martins Indi was shown a red card for clashing with Kolbeinn Sigthorsson in the first period, as Swansea City playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson netted the decisive second-half penalty.
The Orange Clockwork haven’t been ticking in their Group A attempts at all, having also been toppled by Iceland 2-0 in Reykjavik, and now sit six points behind Czech Republic and a further two off their recent conquerors in top spot.
Third place would be enough for a play-off place, but Blind’s stumbling nation sit only a point above fourth-placed Turkey, with the Czech Republic having strengthened their position in second by toppling Kazakhstan 2-1.
Elsewhere, Southampton sharpshooter Graziano Pelle struck in the second-half for Italy to secure his country a narrow 1-0 triumph over Malta in Group H, while their main rivals for top spot Croatia were held to a goalless stalemate by Azerbaijan.