Gareth Bale summons spirit of Andorra and Euro 2016 to save Wales against Belarus

There was a strong sense of synchronicity about Wales’ dramatic win over Belarus.

Gareth Bale was Wales’ saviour once more with a late winner in a qualifier. Against lowly opponents. On a troublesome pitch.

That was the story in Russia on Sunday, as it was in Andorra in 2014 when Wales started their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Their hopes of reaching a first major tournament since 1958 looked to be over at the first hurdle when Andorra, ranked 199th in the world, took a shock lead by scoring their first competitive goal for four years.

Luckily for Wales, Bale headed them level and then, with nine minutes remaining, he struck a superb free-kick to steal a victory which set them on their way to Euro 2016 and an unforgettable journey to the semi-finals in France.

Wales found themselves in another perilous position on Sunday as they trailed 2-1 against a Belarusian side 70 places below them in the Fifa world rankings.

But up stepped their captain and all-time record goalscorer Bale to convert his second penalty of the match to bring Wales level before completing his hat-trick deep into added time to snatch victory.

“It’s massive,” Bale, 32, told Sky Sports after the game. “Every game counts. We know these types of games are probably the hardest games.

“For one, you’re expected to win and the other teams make it difficult. Everything was against us.

“It was not a good first half whatsoever but I felt in the second half we really changed it; we got on the front foot.

“The pitch was not easy to play on – very dry, very soft – but the boys showed character yet again.

“It was like Andorra in the first Euro qualifier in 2014 – to get that kind of last-minute goal to get the three points and keep the momentum going. Hopefully we can keep that going into the next game.”

The similarities are many between Wales’ Euro 2016 campaign and their attempts to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

Wales’ marquee victory on the road to France five years ago was their 1-0 qualifying win over group favourites and the world’s then second-ranked side Belgium in Cardiff.

The man who scored Wales’ only goal that night? Bale, of course.

The teams met again in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, when Wales triumphed 3-1 – the greatest night in Welsh football history.

Now, as they aim to qualify for a first World Cup since 1958, Wales find themselves pitted against Belgium once again – this time with their opponents ranked number one in the world.

Belgium are unbeaten in their five matches of this campaign and sit top of Group E, seven points clear of third-placed Wales but having played two games more.

Only the group winners qualify automatically and the runners-up progress to the play-offs, in which Wales are already all but guaranteed a place after finishing top of their Nations League group.

If they are to secure their immediate passage to next year’s World Cup in Qatar, Wales will likely need to overcome Belgium once again.

Wales lost when the teams met in the opening round of this campaign but, with Belgium yet to visit Cardiff City Stadium, Bale still believes automatic qualification is possible.

“Yes, sure. We know we have lost to Belgium, a very good Belgium team, but it is important we keep winning every other game,” the Real Madrid forward said.

“We all know the performance in the first half [against Belarus] was not good enough. We corrected it more in the second half.

“We bounced back and got the three points and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.”

source: BBC Sport

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