by Julie Kissick
RYAN Giggs’ first competitive match as Wales manager ended in a stunning 4 – 1 victory against the Republic of Ireland.
His young side served up a feast of fabulous football at Cardiff City Stadium – Giggs’ first game at home – and shone throughout.
The Republic of Ireland had their card marked early in the Nations League opener as a Tom Lawrence goal in the sixth minute set the tone.
Gareth Bale got the second and Aaron Ramsey a third before half time, but it was the youngsters who really stood out, including Connor Roberts who got the fourth after the break.
Martin O’Neill’s side got a consolation through substitute Shaun Williams and Wayne Hennessey was clearly disappointed not to keep a clean sheet.
Giggs’ youngsters looked calm and confident alongside the experienced players and the combination proved clinical.
Ethan Ampadu was instrumental in the first goal, supplying David Brooks who put the ball through to Joe Allen and he gifted 24-year-old Lawrence. The Derby County man was clinical from close range, giving goalkeeper Darren Randolph no chance.
Thirteen minutes later Gareth Bale got his 30th goal for his country. Ben Davies’ ball found Bale who delivered a trade-mark stunning shot from 20 yards. He is now Wales’ all-time top scorer, with two more than Ian Rush.
Ampadu was on hand to assist again to set up Ramsey who made it three in the first 45 and sent his side in at half time having delivered some scintillating football. The Chelsea teenager (17) belied his years with a confident, mature performance which earned him the man of the match accolade.
Connor Roberts was preferred to Chris Gunter, whose run of 63 competitive games was brought to an end by Giggs as he ushered in a new era with his young side.
Just 12 minutes into the second half Roberts produced a piece of magic from a Bale pass. The Swansea full-back smashed the ball on the half-volley and his left-footed strike made it 4-0. It was the 22-year-old’s first ever competitive goal.
The Republic managed to reduce the arrears fractionally when Williams pounced on Ramsey’s 66th-minute slip-up on the edge of the area, his shot chipping Hennessey to offer some consolation in O’Neill’s 50th game in charge of the Republic.
Clearly delighted to get off to such a positive start, Giggs singled out Ampadu for special praise.
“He is going to be a magnificent player,” he said. “It’s not just what he does on the pitch, it’s the way he handles himself off it.”
Giggs was also keen to point out that the need for a mix of youth and experience is one he understands.
“Me as a player, I got a chance when I was young, but I also played on until I was 40, so I understand both sides. I had good pros in the dressing room and they helped me and I’ve got the same here. I’m lucky to have a really good balance.
“I talked about them expressing themselves and trusting each other and that’s what I got. We could have scored more but to get four in any game is special. Not many teams could have lived with us tonight.”
Wales now travel to face Denmark on Sunday. They had been expecting to come up against a below-strength team, including futsal players, following a dispute over commercial rights.
However, the Danish FA and their top players have agreed to hold talks and Denmark are expected to field a full-strength side, including the likes of Christian Eriksen and Kasper Schmeichel.
Kick-off at the Aarhus Stadium is 17:00.