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Euro 2016 Qualifying: Hal Robson-Kanu Keeps Wales In The Driving Seat

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IT never seems straightforward with Wales and so it proved yet again as Chris Coleman’s side turned what should have been a comfortable victory into an ordeal for every home supporter in the crowd. Coasting after early goals from David Cotterill and Hal Robson-Kanu, Wales contrived to let Cyprus back into the game, when Wayne Hennessey made a hash of dealing with Vincent Laban’s free-kick, and ended up playing the final 42 minutes with 10 men.

Andy King’s red card, for raking his studs down Constantinos Makridis’s ankle, changed the complexion of a match that Wales had within their grasp at one stage. A fraught and nervous finale ensued, with Welsh hearts in mouths when Georgios Efrem, unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, had a wonderful chance to level eight minutes from time. Fortunately for Wales, Efrem headed over.

Wales will feel that they deserved that reprieve on a night that ended with relief being the overriding emotion as Coleman’s players held on for the win that ensured they will travel to Belgium next month enjoying the view from the top of Group B. With seven points from three games, Coleman is entitled to be delighted with the way that Wales have started the campaign.

There is no doubt, however, that the Wales manager would have preferred an easier ride here. “I can safely say, knowing the result, I loved it,” Coleman said. “I can’t say I enjoyed it when I saw that red card come out – my heart sank if I’m honest. It’s no criticism of the lads but when we went two-nil up we should have gone three or four, we got a bit blasé. We conceded one before half-time and then the game is back on.

“The red card, you look at the challenge, it was a heavy challenge, but if he sends one of ours off, surely he can send one or two of theirs off – they weren’t shy either.”

Gareth Bale, who celebrated at the final whistle as if he had won the Champions League again, came in for some particularly harsh treatment on an evening when Manuel Gräfe, the German referee, showed nine yellow cards and one red. Marios Nikolaou, the Cyprus midfielder, was guilty of a particularly poor challenge on Bale in the fourth minute. He escaped with a booking.

By that stage Wales had been forced into an early change, after Simon Church dislocated a shoulder. It was a far from ideal start for Wales but there was a silver lining. Cotterill, Church’s replacement, came on and marked his first international appearance for Wales in 11 months with a rather fortuitous goal, after his inswinging cross eluded everyone and crept into the far corner. With George Williams, who was making his first senior start, full of running and Bale shooting on sight, Wales looked dangerous whenever they broke forward and there was a sense of inevitability about the second goal.

Bale was the architect, a sumptuous flick just inside the Cyprus half releasing Robson-Kanu. Sprinting clear, the Reading winger showed composure to calmly slot the ball between the legs of the goalkeeper, Tasos Kissas.

At that point it was hard to see anything other than a routine Wales win, yet a lapse in concentration allowed the visitors to get a goal back. Hennessey, so impressive in the goalless draw against Bosnia on Friday night, came off his line to punch Laban’s whipped free-kick but, after being slightly blocked by Ashley Williams, was unable to make good contact and the ball skimmed off the top of his glove and into the Wales net.

Bale, with a free-kick that was tipped on to the bar, and Joe Ledley, whose header was cleared off the line, came close to adding a third before King’s red card.

Coleman admitted that he had “lost a bit of trust for the officials” because of their inconsistency but his faith in his players never wavered. Despite periods of Cyprus pressure, Wales remained resolute and almost added to their lead when the indefatigable Bale nutmegged Kissas with a flick of the left boot only for his shot to roll across the face of the goal and behind. Then came Efrem’s missed opportunity. – The Guardian


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