Football: Wales are lifted by Hughes

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The Independent Online
Cyprus. .0

Wales. . 1

MARK HUGHES, with his first international goal for two years, guided Wales safely through a World Cup tie that was always fraught with potential danger. The United States and the 1994 finals may still lie some way in the distance but the dream lives on for the manager, Terry Yorath, and his team, who characteristically gave everything in their country's cause on a sultry Mediterranean evening.

Anything less than victory would have been a disaster for their qualifying ambitions, and there were a few anxious moments for the 2,000 Welsh supporters who had made the journey before the red shirts had the measure both of an uneven pitch and spirited opposition.

It took until the 51st minute for Wales to sustain enough pressure to force their first corner. The advantage accrued was maximum, as again the set-piece manoeuvre came to the rescue of a British team in foreign combat.

David Phillips's efforts here both in defence but particularly in attack were never anything less than commendable, and his corner was ideally placed for Hughes to connect with a downward header that somehow found its way into the net through a crowd of bodies. His 10th international goal will have inestimable value if the belief it promotes in his team finds reward in the more difficult ties to come against Belgium and Czechoslovakia.

'Mark does not score many goals but this one could turn out to be very important for us,' Yorath said. 'People said before that it was only Cyprus and we should win easily but that's silly. If someone had offered me a goal before the start I'd have bought it. It was a very difficult job well done.'

It was two years ago tomorrow when Hughes last scored for Wales - but his technique, his immaculate control, and clever use of the ball mark him out as one of the few home players who can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best from abroad.

The Cypriot goalkeeper, Michalis Christophi, had demonstrated his ability in the first half, and it was clearly going to take something special to beat him. His save from Ian Rush nine minutes before the interval was world class. Rush, looking for the goal that would put him out in front as Wales's all-time record scorer, produced a ferocious left-foot volley that he did well to get his hands to, let alone keep hold of.

The moment signalled the start of Welsh dominance over opponents, only two of whom are full- time professionals, whose confidence came from three successive victories, the first time they had achieved the feat.

In the 41st minute, Rush headed to Gary Speed and the Leeds youngster, still awaiting his first international goal, was denied again as Christophi palmed the effort on to a post.

Neville Southall, dressed all in black for the occasion, distinguished himself with a crucial save with his legs to deny Costas Costa in the 70th minute.

By then the Cypriot threat, disconcerting at the start as Nikos Papavasiliou showed a lively turn of pace and Eric Young was booked for a foul, was sporadic at best. There was reason to worry at the death as a corner in injury time flashed in front of Southall, but it ran to safety and Wales were home.

CYPRUS: Christophi (Apollon Limassol); Costa (Apoel Nicosia), Pittas (Apollon), Constandinou (Omonia Nicosia), Nikolaou (Pezoporikos Larnaca), Yiangoudakis, D Ioannou, Charalambous (all Apollon), Sotiriou (Apoel), Papavasiliou (OFI Iraklion), Savvides (Omonia). Substitutes: Y Ioannou (Apoel) for Sotiriou, 60; Hadjilucas (Apoel) for Pittas, 76.

WALES: Southall (Everton); Phillips, Bowen (both Norwich City), Blackmore (Manchester United), Young (Crystal Palace), Symons (Portsmouth), Horne (Everton), Saunders (Aston Villa), Rush (Liverpool), Hughes (Manchester United), Speed (Leeds United).

Referee: L Vagner (Hungary).