Ten-man Wales had the unlikely figures of David Cotterill and Hal Robson-Kanu to thank as they edged to a nervy victory over Cyprus.
Cotterill’s cross caught out the Cypriot defence for the opener, while Robson-Kanu got the second after a predictably brilliant assist from Gareth Bale who, unlike Raheem Sterling, made no concession to fatigue, with a tireless performance.
Wales rarely make life easy, and a Wayne Hennessey error allowed Vincent Laban to bring Cyprus back into the game before Andy King was sent off for a rash tackle just after the break.
It left Chris Coleman’s Dragons to cling on for the three points that gives them their best start to a campaign in over a decade and leave them top of Euro 2016 qualifying Group B.
It may have made for uncomfortable viewing at times but Wales can head to group favourites Belgium next month in fine spirits, having maintained their unbeaten start without the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen.
Wales’s injury crisis had deepened after their draw with Bosnia; midfielder Jonathan Williams becoming the 11th player unavailable.
It got worse inside 60 seconds when Simon Church suffered a suspected dislocated shoulder in an innocuous fall after a tussle with Giorgos Merkis.
Wales were still coming to terms with that when Bale was left writhing on the turf after an ugly, premeditated lunge from Marios Nikolaou caught his right ankle. The Cyprus midfielder was perhaps lucky to escape with a yellow card while there were sighs of relief from the home fans as Bale eventually hauled himself back on his feet.
Church was replaced by Cotterill, with Bale now a lone striker. It was the substitute, not the £86m man, who gave Wales a 13th-minute lead.
Cyprus failed to clear Cotterill’s initial corner and, when King directed the ball back to the flank, his floated cross evaded everyone to find the far corner of the net as keeper Tasos Kissas was distracted by Bale’s attempted diving header. It was Cotterill’s second international goal, over four years after his first.
The lead was doubled 10 minutes later, beautifully crafted by Bale. His delightful back flick from King’s pass bamboozled the Cypriot rearguard and sent Robson-Kanu racing through on goal to slot through the keeper’s legs.
Wales gifted Cyprus a way back into the game nine minutes before the break. Laban’s free-kick was hardly the most threatening, but Hennessey and Ashley Williams conspired to get in each other’s way, with the ball flicking off the Crystal Palace keeper’s glove and into the far corner.
Bale almost produced a swift response as Kissas adjusted well to tip his deflected free-kick on to the bar, with Merkis heading Joe Ledley’s follow-up off the line.
Wales needed to start the second half with the same intent with which they finished the first, instead they found themselves down to 10 men. King was sent off after raking down the ankle of Constantinos Makridis and, while Bale was booked for protesting, the Leicester midfielder appeared to accept the decision, although those in red wondered aloud if his challenge was any worse than Nikolaou’s on Bale early on.
From a position of absolute comfort, Wales were now rocking, with Cyprus’s Demetris Christofi worrying Hennessey with a low strike.
At one point the home side were so deep Bale received the ball in the right-back position, although he was soon in more familiar territory to roll a shot agonisingly across the face of goal from Cotterill’s pass.
It proved a brief respite for the hosts, and it seemed inevitable Cyprus would get at least one chance to land the crucial blow.
Thankfully for Wales, George Efrem headed that opportunity over to enhance Welsh dreams of reaching a first major finals since way back in 1958.Reuse content