By Ethan Harris
Date: Sunday, 24th March, 2019.
Venue: Cardiff City Stadium.
WALES started their European qualifying campaign with an impressive 1 – 0 victory over Group E rivals Slovakia.
Swansea’s Daniel James scored the only goal of the game on his international debut, to give the home side the spoils.
With Aaron Ramsey missing for Ryan Giggs’ men, his younger stars flourished as Harry Wilson, David Brooks and the goal scorer James all impressed in Wales opening fixture.
With Slovakia proving a tough test, it was vital Wales started with a sense of urgency to control the tempo of the game.
Moments after the opening whistle, the hosts gave the home crowd the dream start they were wishing for.
James pounced onto Peter Pekarik’s poor control of the ball just outside the area, and the Swans winger smashed the ball past Martin Dubravka in the Slovakian net to fire Wales into the lead.
Wales kept coming at the visitors in the early stages, hungry to get their European qualifying campaign off to a flying start.
A quick free-kick was spread wide, with Ben Davies running hard to overlap and whip a cross into a dangerous position.
The defender managed to pick out David Brooks in space, and the Bournemouth man swiveled on a half-turn, but could only find the side-netting with his strike, to the dismay of the red wall.
Filling in at the number 10 role, Brooks was thriving in pockets of space outside the Slovakian defence.
Showing his magic on the right hand side, the 21-year-old danced past David Hancko and Robert Mak before curling an effort towards the far post, which just flew wide five minutes from the end of the first period.
The visitors nearly grabbed a goal against the run of play ten minutes after the restart.
Marek Hamsik showed just how dangerous he could be, slipping the ball between the legs of Joe Allen into the path of Albert Rusnak.
The Slovakian number 10 looked to chip stopper Wayne Hennessey, but the ball rebounded off the Welsh goalkeeper back into Rusnak, who could only watch as the chance slipped away for a goal kick.
The visitors built on that opportunity, as the momentum shifted away from the hosts.
Robert Mak found himself with enough space to fire a shot on goal in the area, but Hennessey got down to his right to claim the ball and keep Wales ahead.
The hosts would not be rocked and held their composure.
James showed his lethal pace down the left, skipping into the box just on the hour mark. The Swans youngster picked out Harry Wilson in acres of space, but the Derby County man could only fire wide as he struck the ball back across goal.
Slovakia pushed for an equaliser in the final moments, and in the last 10 minutes of the match Wales fell asleep at the back.
A momentary lapse in concentration meant Michal Duris rose virtually unchallenged in the area. The substitute flicked a header towards goal, but it was straight at Hennessey as the stopper palmed the ball away.
Despite a tense finish, Wales held on to kick-start their European qualifying campaign with all three points.
Wales Starting XI: Wayne Hennessey, Ben Davies, Chris Mepham, Joe Allen, Matthew Smith, David Brooks (Tyler Roberts, 59), Gareth Bale, Connor Roberts James Lawrence, Harry Wilson (Will Vaulks, 85), Daniel James (Ashley Williams, 71).
Slovakia Starting XI: Martin Dubravka, Peter Pekarik (Pavel Safranco, 89), Denis Vavro, Ondrej Duda (Michal Duris, 65), Albert Rusnak, Milan Skriniar, David Hancko, Marek Hamsik, Juraj Kucka, Robert Mak (Miroslav Stoch, 68), Stanislav Lobotka.
(Featured image: Lewis Mitchell)