Wales are on the brink of the Euro 2020 knockout stages after Gareth Bale set up two goals, either side of a dismal penalty miss, to help Robert Page’s team to a 2-0 win over Turkey.
Bale, who provided a sublime assist for Aaron Ramsey to break the deadlock after 42 minutes in Baku, sliced way over from 12 yards with just over an hour played, wasting the chance to put Wales clear.
Yet the Euro 2016 semi-finalists overcame the setback, holding their nerve in defence before Bale atoned with another fantastic assist, this time for Connor Roberts to score with the last kick of the game.
It took Wales, temporarily at least, top of Group A on four points after two games, and with the four best third-placed teams progressing into the last 16, they look well placed to make the knockouts.
Ramsey’s first chance came in the sixth minute, the Juventus midfielder electing to shoot rather than square to the unmarked Kieffer Moore, with Ugurcan Cakir pulling off a fine save at his near post.
Having been found brilliantly by Bale, Ramsey squandered another golden opportunity in the 24th minute, blazing over when one-on-one with Cakir.
Yet amid mounting Turkey pressure, it proved third time lucky for Ramsey. Bale was the architect with another sensational pass over the defence which the former Arsenal man controlled with his chest before slotting into the bottom-left corner.
Bale would have gone from provider to scorer had a venomous effort had enough dip to drop under the crossbar, though Wales should have been pegged back moments later.
A corner was flicked onto Burak Yilmaz, whose acrobatic attempt flashed over from close range.
Turkey should have been made to pay, but Bale – having drawn a clumsy tackle from Zeki Celik – sent his spot-kick soaring over.
Danny Ward made a stunning save to deny Merih Demiral and Wales made it count – Bale driving in from a last-minute corner to tee up Roberts, who prodded home to put the last 16 firmly within reach.
What does it mean? Wales on the brink but Turkey frustrated
After their first win over Turkey since 1981, in what was the first meeting between the nations at a major tournament, Wales now have four points, meaning third place is the lowest they can finish in Group A, giving them a brilliant chance of making the last 16.
Turkey, meanwhile, sit rock bottom after two defeats, and must hope Italy defeat Switzerland in order to keep their slim chances of progression alive. Indeed, their frustrations boiled over at the end, with Yilmaz involved in a fracas with Ben Davies just before Roberts settled the contest.
Talismanic duo come up with the goods
Bale’s performance risked being remembered for his dismal penalty attempt, but the Real Madrid man ensured that was not to be the case, while his partner in crime Ramsey was on top form too.
The duo have now netted 50 of the 73 international goals scored by players in Wales’ Euro 2020 squad, while Ramsey has either scored or assisted six of the 13 goals Wales have managed at European Championship finals.
Excluding penalty shootouts, Bale is the first player to miss the goal frame entirely with a spot-kick since the legendary Raul – another Madrid player – did so for Spain against France in 2000.
Bale made sure his blushes were spared though, and rightly so. His two assists came from five key passes, a game-high, while only Yilmaz (six) had more shots than Wales’ captain (five), in a game which saw a tournament-high 34 attempts.
– Since they first qualified for the European Championships in 1996, no side has suffered more defeats in the group stages of the competition than Turkey, with Wednesday’s loss their ninth at this stage (level with Russia).
– Wales remain unbeaten in their six matches across all competitions in Baku (W4 D2), keeping clean sheets in each victory.
– Bale and Ramsey created four chances between themselves against Turkey, the most by a pair so far in any game at EURO 2020, whilst the most in a game at EURO 2016 was six – also set by Bale and Ramsey (v Russia).
– Bale is the first player to miss the goal frame entirely with a penalty at the EUROs since Raúl for Spain against France at the 2000 tournament (excluding shootouts).
Wales go up against Italy in Rome on Sunday, with Turkey staying put in Baku, where they will face Switzerland.
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