Kieffer Moore’s first international goal helped Wales stay in pursuit of qualification for Euro 2020 with a 1-1 draw in Slovakia.
Ryan Giggs’ selection gamble to hand Moore his first competitive start was vindicated inside 25 minutes in Trnava as the Wigan striker headed Wales in front with his first goal for his country, moments after a Gareth Bale header hit the bar.
Wales had the better of the first half but Slovakia got their reward for a spirited second-half fightback as Juraj Kucka’s sumptuous volley levelled the contest within eight minutes of the restart.
It was backs to the walls for Wales from there on, with the hosts laying siege on their goal until Norbert Gyomber’s late dismissal for two bookable offences, but they dug in to secure a credible point on a night where they might have had all three.
Slovakia: Dubravka (7), Pekarik (6), Gyomber (4), Skriniar (6), Hancko (6), Kucka (7), Lobotka (7), Hamsik (7), Rusnak (6), Bozenik (6), Mak (7).
Subs: Haraslin (5), Safranko (n/a).
Wales: Hennessey (7), C. Roberts (7), Rodon (7), Lockyer (6), B. Davies (6), Allen (6), Ampadu (6), Bale (6), J. Williams (7), James (7), Moore (7).
Subs: Morrell (5), Wilson, (5).
Man of the Match: Kieffer Moore.
How Wales kept on course for Euro 2020
Giggs sprung two surprises ahead of kick-off by handing Moore and Tom Lockyer their first competitive starts for Wales, and the latter’s blushes were spared on 11 minutes when Ethan Ampadu’s brilliant block prevented Robert Mak from punishing his indecision on the ball.
Wales utilised their pace on the counter to ensure both sides weather the early Slovakian pressure, Daniel James saw a near-post header deflect wide of goal on 17 minutes before Gareth Bale struck the angle of post and bar with a header of his own seven minutes later.
The breakthrough followed soon after for Wales as James stood a cross up from the left which allowed Moore to head his landmark goal beyond the wrong-footed Martin Dubravka.
Bale and James both tested the Newcastle goalkeeper before the break, but his resistance was rewarded on 53 minutes when Kucka pounced on a Connor Roberts defensive header and lashed a stunning equaliser past Wayne Hennessey.
Slovakia sensed an opportunity to put Wales’ qualification hopes to bed with a sustained period of pressure, but Hennessey’s brilliant save at full stretch prevented Albert Rusnak’s low drive from putting the hosts in front for the first time.
Wales centre-back Joe Rodon nearly snatched a dramatic win on two occasions, but his deflected close-range header and acrobatic overhead kick flashed over as Wales settled for a point ahead of Sunday’s crunch clash with Croatia in Cardiff.
Group E: As it stands
What the managers said…
Wales boss Ryan Giggs told Sky Sports: “I’m pleased we went ahead. Slovakia came back into it and we had to weather a storm, but overall, I’m really pleased with the performance. We limited them to shots from outside the box and we had the better chances; Gareth [Bale] hit the crossbar, Joe Rodon had his header from the free-kick.
“It could have been different, but we were under pressure at times and I thought we stood up to it well. With the talented players we’ve got, needed to put those chances away and be ruthless. We need to put those chances away in the next three games.”
Analysis: A good away point for Wales?
Sky Sports News reporter Geraint Hughes:
‘It’s probably too soon to judge whether a 1-1 draw away is a good point or not. Why? Well, there are two sides of the story. Firstly, a point keeps Wales in the hunt for automatic qualification, especially given Croatia’s victory over Hungary as both the Hungarians and Slovakia are two and three points respectively ahead of Wales in Group E, but Ryan Giggs men have what could be a crucial game in hand.
‘The other side of the story is one where Wales would have gone into Sunday’s game in Cardiff against Croatia having beaten Slovakia, they probably should have. If you analyse the quality of those chances, they weren’t 30 yard hopeful pot shots, Wales tore through Slovakia’s defences at times and gave themselves the opportunity to really test Martin Dubravka in goal.
“Maybe, maybe they’ll kick themselves they didn’t test him more and indeed beat him more than once. It’s not that often away from home that Wales’ pacey front men of Bale and James will get that much space and not make the opponent pay. Bale perhaps gave away his feelings after the game, pleased with the effort and performance , but you could sense by the odd grimace over his face that he felt Wales should have at least of scored more than the one goal they did.’
Wales host World Cup runners-up Croatia at the Cardiff City Stadium at 7.45pm on Sunday, live on Sky Sports Football from 7.15pm. Slovakia entertain Paraguay in an international friendly in Bratislava at the same time.