Football: Brave Wales rewarded by Symons

Wales 3 Belarus 2
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The Independent Online
WALES, A team who could not win a raffle this time last week, recorded their second success in five days last night to resuscitate their chances of appearing in Euro 2000. Much more of this and there will be calls for Bobby Gould to head the new Welsh Assembly.

Only last week Cardiff was plastered with "Gould Must Go" posters, which his team have answered with wins over Denmark in Copenhagen and now Belarus in Cardiff. The manager had demanded at least four points from those two matches - instead he has got six and the Welsh are joint first in Group One, albeit having played a game more than Italy.

Miracles do not happen very often for Wales, who have not qualified for a major final for 40 years, so two coming so quickly are riches indeed. "The way they played in the second half was magnificent," Gould said. "You look down the list of clubs the Belarus players come from and you realise how good they are. This was a special night."

It was also plucked from a lottery because the advantage swung from team to team with dizzying speed. Wales, 1-0 ahead after 15 minutes, were behind just after half-time, and Kit Symons got the winner with only seven minutes remaining. Even then the points were only secured when Paul Jones made a flying save in the closing seconds from Alexander Khatskevich.

Before the game Gould had likened himself to a man hanging from a cliff top. "There is blood under my nails from clinging to the precipice," he had said, commenting on the movement to remove him. "Hopefully, I can claw my way a little nearer safety."

Gould was denied Ryan Giggs, John Hartson and Gary Speed through injury and suspension for his escape bid and he eschewed the opportunity to play Craig Bellamy, the match- winner against Denmark, from the start. Instead he brought in Mark Pembridge and John Robinson.

The loss of Giggs would damage most international teams, but Wales showed no inhibitions and went close after four minutes, Dean Saunders getting ahead of his marker to volley Darren Barnard's cross just wide.

Saunders was off the mark with another effort three minutes later and Pembridge forced a splendid save out of Andrei Satsunkevich soon afterwards, so when Wales did take the lead on the quarter-hour you could hardly say it was unexpected.

Not that the quality of the goal was diminished by that. Pembridge beat a defender on the right flank and further confusion spread in the Belarus ranks when Saunders dummied to meet his pass. Charging in behind him was Robinson, who thumped a shot into the roof of the net for his second goal in 13 international appearances.

Wales surrendered their lead when they committed too many men forward. After 21 minutes Vyacheslav Gerashchenko hared down the right and, with the home team rushing to meet him, he delivered a precise cross to the far post, where Sergei Gurenko scored with a diving header.

Within three minutes of the restart Valentin Belkevich scored the sort of goal that is a delight for the neutral but a dagger to the heart of the committed. There was an element of danger as the Dynamo Kiev forward received the ball 25 yards out but not so much that you would not expect the massed defence to snuff it out. Instead, with deceptive casualness, Belkevich beat two defenders, pushed it beyond Jones and passed it into the empty net.

Wales were momentarily deflated, but if nothing else in this European Championship campaign they have displayed a spirit that was lacking during the depths of last spring and summer and they responded with their second goal after 54 minutes.

Barnard's corner was headed into the ground by Blake with such a force that the ball bounced on to the bar and rebounded eight yards clear. Coleman was first to react and volleyed in for the fourth goal for his country.

Wales charged forward, Blake hit the bar with a header and it appeared their efforts would come to nothing when Barnard delivered another fine corner from the left. Symons header was not fierce, but it had the merit of accuracy and floated over the Belarus goalkeeper, past Coleman's effort to touch it, and into the net via a post.

Gould left the field blowing kisses to his wife in the crowd. "She has suffered, as have the rest of my family," he said, before savouring the changed mood. "I didn't hear one shout of Gould must go."

WALES (3-5-2): Jones (Southampton); Symons (Fulham), Savage (Leicester), Coleman (Fulham); Robinson (Charlton), Johnson (Nottingham Forest), Hughes (Southampton), Pembridge (Benfica), Barnard (Barnsley); Saunders (Sheffield Utd), Blake (Bolton).

BELARUS (4-5-1): Satsunkevich (Dynamo Minsk); Lavrik (Lokomotiv Moscow), Yakhimovich, Ostrovsky, Shtanyuk (all Dynamo Moscow); Baranov (Spartak Moscow), Khatskevich, Belkevich (both Dynamo Kiev), Gerashchenko (Chernomorets Novorossyik), Gurenko (Lokomotiv Moscow); Makovsky (Dynamo Moscow). Substitutes: Gerasimets (Zenit St Petersburg) for Baranov, 69; Kachuro (Sheffield Utd) for Makovsky, 72, Romashchenko (Dynamo Moscow) for Gerashchenko, 88.

Referee: L Sammut (Malta).

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