Dan James’ late header gave Wales a vital 1-0 victory over Czech Republic in World Cup Qualifying Group E as both sides ended the game with 10 men in Cardiff.
Wales missed the best chance of the first half with a rare attack as Gareth Bale’s close-range effort was tipped over by Tomas Vaclik, but the hosts gained a numerical advantage after the break as Patrik Schick was sent off for raising his hand to Connor Roberts following a tussle in the box.
Roberts was then dismissed for a second booking, having received the first in the incident with Schick, but Wales played their best football thereafter, and got the winner as Bale’s superb, wicked cross was headed home brilliantly by James for his fourth Wales goal (81).
Joe Rodon denied Ondrej Celutska a nailed-on equaliser in stoppage time with a sensational block in the penalty area, and Wales held on for their first win of the campaign, leaving them third, a point behind the Czechs having played one game fewer.
Wales: Ward (7), Mepham (7), Rodon (8), J Lawrence (8), N Williams (7), Roberts (6), Ampadu (6), Wilson (6), Morrell (7), James (7), Bale (7)
Subs: Moore (5), Williams (NA)
Czech Republic: Vaclik (7), Coufal (6), Celustka (6), Kudela (6), Boril (6), Holes (6), Soucek (6), Provod (6), Darida (6), Jankto (7), Schick (5)
Subs: Krmencik (7), Masopust (NA), Kaderabek (NA), Barak (NA), Vydra (NA)
Man of the match: Joe Rodon
Group E table
How Wales grabbed vital victory late on
The Czechs’ aerial threat had been pinpointed before the game, but in the first half the visitors were causing problems on the floor as Wales left too much space in front of their defence.
Jakub Jankto went close twice early on, first curling just wide with a low effort from the edge of the box, and then lashing into the side-netting from an angle.
But Wales had the best chance of the first 45 minutes, their only shot on target. After Liverpool’s Neco Williams twisted and turned on the left flank, his cross found Bale six yards out, but he couldn’t get proper contact on his effort, allowing Vaclik to turn over the bar.
The game heated up in the second half as Schick saw red for a tussle with Roberts in the box at a free-kick; replays showed Schick had used his elbow in wrestling with Roberts, before raising his arm to the Welshman.
But Wales failed to make the advantage count as the Czechs were spurred on to attack more – Lukas Provod was found easily over the defence, rounded Danny Ward, but was dispossessed by James Lawrence’s last-ditch sliding tackle.
It looked ominous for Wales when they too went down to 10 men as the tables turned on Roberts, who caught Tomas Soucek with a flailing arm as he went up for a header, receiving his second yellow.
But that in-turn prompted the visitors to open up and allow Wales to attack, the hosts going close as sub Kieffer Moore slipped in James, only to be denied by Vaclik as he looked to round him at an angle.
The winner then came with nine minutes remaining as Bale delivered his first real moment of quality in the game from the left flank, crossing for James, who did superbly to head into the ground from 10 yards and beyond Vaclik.
Wales made just one change from the defeat by Belgium last week as Luton midfielder Joe Morrell came in for the injured Joe Allen.
Hal Robson-Kanu, Rabbi Matondo and Tyler Roberts were all released from the Welsh camp earlier in the week after breaching Football Association Wales (FAW) protocol.
The Czechs nearly grabbed a leveller in stoppage time as defender Celustka ran onto a centre eight yards out, but Spurs defender Rodon somehow got his body behind the ball to earn Rob Page’s side a hard-earned victory, despite being under-par for most of the contest in Cardiff.
What the manager said…
Rob Page on Sky Sports: “We’re disappointed with aspects of our performance, but it’s a win. What we’ve done in recent times is found a way to win.
“If I’d have said to you before the game DJ [Dan James] would he hanging at the back post to score a header, you’d question it. But we found a way to win. We knew we were in for a battle, and it didn’t disappoint. We were under threat constantly. I’m really proud of our group of players.
“If the crowd would have been here, that was a moment where everyone would be buzzing. What a ball it was [from Gareth Bale], and DJ has timed it perfectly.
“If I’m being honest now at the end of the camp, we’d have probably taken four points, but three points is a great return, given the players we don’t have here. We don’t have Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies, and Joe Allen.”
- Wales have won five consecutive home competitive matches for the first time since March 1993 under Terry Yorath.
- Gareth Bale has had a hand in 14 goals in his last 19 starts for Wales (7 goals, 7 assists), providing an assist in each of his last four appearances for the Dragons.
- Dan James has scored two goals in his last three appearances for Wales, as many as in his first 19 caps for his country. Indeed, his winner this evening was his first headed goal for Wales.
- Gareth Bale made his 90th appearance for Wales in this game with only Chris Gunter (100), Wayne Hennessey (95) and Neville Southall (92) receiving more caps for the Dragons.
Wales have an international friendly with Albania arranged on June 5 in Cardiff, before their opening Euro 2020 group game with Switzerland on June 12 in Baku.