Euro 2016
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Bale bags brace as Wales go top of Euro 2016 group with win in Israel

Goals either side of half time in Haifa from Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale, who later struck again, sent Wales top of Euro 2016 qualifying Group B as the Dragons knocked 10-man Israel from this pool’s perch.

Chris Coleman’s side are now unbeaten in five competitive outings in this campaign to reach the European Championship finals in France next summer, and their prospects of being there are now very real as they cannot be displaced from an automatic spot during this international break no matter what.

Israel’s excellent start to qualification unraveled in seven mad minutes around the interval. Early Welsh efforts through later scorers Ramsey and Bale went wide, while James Collins was relieved to see a raised offside flag spare his blushes after hitting fresh air when he had an open goal to aim at from point blank range.

Wayne Hennessey had to be on hand to turn behind from Eran Zahavi, as fine Israeli form and fortune deserted the hosts. They lost Omer Damari, top scorer in the group with five, who was helped off before the break, but there was still time for Wales to establish a half-time lead.

When Israel allowed a long punt upfield from Dragons stopper Hennessey to bounce in their own box, Bale and Ramsey combined in the air to punish this, with the latter looping his header home.

Eitan Tibi foolishly felled Bale on the edge of his own area after the interval, and the Real Madrid forward silenced some of his recent critics by doubling Wales’ lead by netting from the resultant free kick.

The hosts were swiftly reduced to 10 men thereafter with Israeli centre back Tibi not learning from his previous foul, giving the Slovakian referee little choice but to brandish a second yellow and send him off for two quickfire bookings.

Other openings and substitutions for both sides followed, most notably Hennessey thwarting Israel substitute striker Tomer Hemed. The Dragons sealed victory 13 minutes from time, though, with Ramsey pulling back for Bale to fire in.

Ex-Chelsea youngster Ben Sahar was denied by Hennessey, while Bale was prevented from hitting a hat-trick with the contest well won.

Coleman will rightly revel in this key victory, not least because the hosts may have underestimated his Dragons.

British-based engine room operators Nir Biton (Celtic) and Beram Kayal (Brighton) were left out of Israel’s XI, who instead went with an expansive 4-1-4-1 set-up incorporating CSKA Moscow’s Bibras Natkho and prolific Club Brugge attacking midfielder Lior Refaelov.

The tactical battle was won by the visitors, who deployed both Bale and Ramsey in the hole, in an inventive 3-4-2-1 formation. Late arrivals in the box were a feature throughout, especially evidenced in the third goal.

Wales have now knocked off a top 30 team in FIFA’s world rankings, and this was a first away victory in seven years against a nation among the elite 50 on that list. They thus must now be treated as serious contenders to reach Euro 2016.