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Euro 2016: Wales Draw With Bosnia-Herzegovina To Top Group B

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IT was not the victory that Chris Coleman, his players and the home supporters craved to ignite hopes of qualifying for the European Championships in France but this may well turn out to be a precious point for Wales. Ashley Williams and Hal Robson-Kanu will have sleepless nights about the glorious chances they squandered late on but at the other end of the pitch it was impossible to overlook the outstanding contribution Wayne Hennessey made in goal.

Unable to get into the Crystal Palace team at the moment, Hennessey produced half a dozen crucial stops here, including a triple save early in the second half and – perhaps most memorably of all – flicked Miralem Pjanic’s 30-yard free-kick over the bar eight minutes from time, when the Bosnia playmaker looked to have found the top corner.

In an absorbing contest in front of a near-capacity crowd, there was still time for Robson-Kanu, from inside the six-yard box, to somehow miss the target, and Bale, who was doing everything in his power to bend this game into Wales’ favour in a frantic finale, to come agonisingly close to finding the bottom corner with a thunderous angled drive. Stoke’s Asmir Begovic, diving low to his left, produced a wonderful one-handed save. “As soon as it left his foot I said: ‘Goal.’ It was an incredible save,” Coleman said.

While Coleman would have been delighted to see that injury-time shot from Bale go in to secure a second successive victory, the Wales manager took great satisfaction from what he described as a magnificent performance. Despite missing 10 players through injury, including Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey and the Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen, Wales played with courage and belief. It was not always pretty but nobody could fault their passion and desire.

“Have we played better football? Yes. But we haven’t fought like that before and put it on the line against a top team like Bosnia,” Coleman said. “The last time we played somebody like Bosnia was Serbia [in the 2014 World Cup qualification campaign] and we got bullied. But we never got bullied tonight. I’m extremely proud .”

At times the Wales players seemed to feed off the energy of the fans, more than 30,000 of whom turned up on a dank evening in south Wales to see a game that was much more enjoyable than the scoreline suggests. There was some superb goalkeeping at both ends, a few over-zealous challenges – Coleman and several of the Wales players thought that the supremely talented Pjanic was fortunate not to be sent off when he brought Jonathan Williams down moments after being booked – and gilt-edged opportunities passed up in front of goal.

Ashley Williams was left kicking the upright in frustration after he failed to take one of those chances 12 minutes from time. Bale, whose influence on the game grew in the closing stages, swung in a vicious inswinging free-kick from the left that the Wales captain, totally unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, seemed destined to head home. Inexplicably, he nodded over.

On the balance of play Bosnia will feel that they were entitled to that reprieve. Pjanic had twice gone close from distance in the first half, Vedad Ibisevic had a penalty appeal turned down just before the interval and there were signs that an accomplished team were starting to turn the screw soon after the restart, when Wales had to weather quite a storm. Three times in the space of 10 second-half minutes Bosnia came close to a breakthrough.

Haris Medunjanin seemed nailed on to score when Tino-Sven Susic slid a low cross into the six-yard box but Hennessey, quickly dashing from his line, did well to smother at the midfielder’s feet. Edin Dzeko, outjumping James Chester at the far post, then saw his header tipped around the far upright by Hennessey, who completed a hat-trick of saves when he repelled Medunjanin’s whipped shot from the edge of the area.

Coleman was full of praise for the Palace No2: “Brilliant, nothing like seeing a 6ft 7in goalkeeper play like that. For him to come into that environment, keep his concentration and play like that speaks volumes for him.”

The challenge for Coleman and his players now is to reprise that level of performance against Cyprus at home on Monday. With Bosnia losing to Cyprus in their opening game, and Cyprus beaten by Israel on Friday night, the race for second place in Group B – Belgium are expected to finish top – is wide open. “Three points on Monday night will make this point look very, very good,” Coleman said. – The Guardian


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