Wales took the crucial step of qualifying for the second round of Euro 2020 as they defeated Turkey after a stunning reunion in Baku.
With a crowd of more than 30,000 in the Azerbaijani capital successfully performing the Turkish home game Wales responded to a spirit of hostility with a powerful, offensive display. They opened up to their opponents at will.
After a series of missed chances in the first half of the restless season, Gareth Bale played a brilliant pass in the Turkish defensive heart for Aaron Ramsey, who lowered the ball and finished well.
Although Turkey came back strong, Wales missed an excellent opportunity to strengthen their lead when captain Bale hit a penalty kick over the bar.
There have been occasional shocks to the Welsh defense as they have resisted the Turkish invasion. With Danny Ward making significant savings too late to deny Merih Demiral.
But Connor Roberts has hit a corner in the depths of injury time to bolster Wales’ four-point win with one game remaining in the group stage.
The final match will be in Rome on Sunday, where they will face Group A favorites in Italy, who will face Switzerland later on Wednesday.
After a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in their opening match last Saturday. Wales will be keeping a close eye on events at the Stadio Olimpico as the match could have a huge impact on their hopes of reaching the last 16.
But regardless of events in Rome, this impressive performance and result against Turkey had been tipped by many. Before this tournament as potential dark horses marked a remarkable transformation from Robert Page‘s side.
Wales has transformed.
Wales were idle, often separated in their first 1-1 draw with Switzerland on Saturday. But, they did not make any changes to the match. They were unrecognizable.
Bale and Ramsey, unknown against the Swiss, were heavily involved from the start and were associated with a positive outcome.
Skipper Bale found Ramsey charged with the ball in the sixth minute. And, after turning inside Caglar Soyuncu, the Juventus midfielder’s shot at the near post was saved by Ugurcan Cakir.
With Bale swapping wings with Daniel James, an absolute menace for the Turkish defense, there was purpose and speed in the Welsh game that had been lacking in their first game.
They were always opening up opportunities, where James crossed Kieffer Moore, who advanced before another Bale through ball set up Ramsey, who rushed and blazed his shot over the bar.
If there was a creeping sense over that these squandered opportunities would ever come back to bite the team Wales. Those fears were to get eased when their stellar combination delivered at the third time of asking.
Bale picked up possession near halfway, saw Ramsey’s run in behind Turkey’s defense. And he found out that his team-mate with an expertly measured chip.
Moreover, Ramsey’s control over the game was of equal quality, as was his low finish.
Bale missed the penalty.
With the good fortune not to be behind but admired by a robust and influential crowd in Turkey-Azeri, Turkey was set up in the very attacking manner in the second half with defenders and wingers moving forward.
Captain Burak Yilmaz had an excellent chance to equalize for nine minutes in the second half when Kaan Ayhan hit the ball in the Wales area. But the Lille striker emerged from close range.
That was one of Turkey’s many attempts at a time of tremendous pressure. And, after the resistance, Wales was also allowed to extend their lead in the game.
Bale took Mehmet Zeki Celik inside the penalty area and, when the Turkish defender hung his leg, pushed the ball in front of him and dropped it.
Referee Artur Dias pointed to the spot, and Bale stepped up, staggering his run-up. Before striking the penalty way over the bar.
However, Turkey has not finished yet. The Ward well saved the head of the powerful Demiral with only three minutes left. But Wales had the final say.
Undeterred by missing his penalty, Bale danced into the Turkish box for extra time. And put the ball on the tireless Roberts, whose finishing at the clinic silenced the home crowd. Also, it left a few hundred Welsh fans celebrating long into the night.
Bale and Ramsey revive the classic Wales combination.
The crowd supporting Turkey of more than 30,000 was silenced so that at the last whistle in Baku. You could only hear the cries of joy of the Welsh players.
The 2-0 victory on Wednesday was their best match and the result since Euro 2016. That was an encouraging campaign that ended in the first semi-final in Wales history.
In addition, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey have played leading roles during that golden summer in France. And, under the night sky of Euro 2020, Wales’ stars sparkled once more.
It has not always been that way. Both players have had to endure periods of frustration by their high standards.
Since during the last European Championship, they got hindered by injuries or a lack of regular action with their clubs as well.
But on Wednesday evening, Bale and Ramsey called for the spirit of 2016 to take Wales to the semi-finals of Euro 2020.
The duo blended well with Wales’ opening goal, with captain Bale proposing a better over the defense in Turkey for Ramsey to control and finish off with success.
Whereas Bale then had missed a penalty in the second half. But, not discouraged by the setback, he arranged for Connor Roberts to secure a double in Wales overtime.
“It’s very difficult to compare the game of this season with the one in 2016. But it’s still incredibly successful,” said Bale.
“We’ll enjoy this, tonight and tomorrow and then look ahead for the next game.”
The next game will be the last of Group A to face Italian leaders and favorites at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
For Ramsey, the game will have added value. Playing his Juventus club football, he will be at his regular Azzurri stadium.
There was also the familiarity of Baku. His goal against Turkey, a brilliant assist, a confident finish, the moment’s importance was like a passing goal to put Wales on the road to a stunning 3-0 victory over Russia in their final team match in 2016.
Ramsey was selected for the tournament team that year. And, although these are still the early days of the summer season. The 30-year-old is showing how he can get up and go to significant events.
“I felt relieved. I had two chances before to score but that first half today was better, we were more in control,” he said.
“In the second half, we also have showed a good character, and I also think we do deserve to win.
“We have given ourselves an excellent opportunity now. We have another great game to play, and we are in a good position now.
“I have a few Juventus team-mates those are playing for Italy so it will be good for me there. But I am representing my country now and we will do everything to win that game.”