Gareth Bale may be out of sorts at Real Madrid, but he was the catalyst for a fantastic performance in Haifa that saw Wales extend their unbeaten run in Group B to five games and keep them on course for Euro 2016 qualification.
Bale made a goal for Aaron Ramsey at the end of the first-half, scored a screamer from a free-kick at the start of the second and then grabbed a second when the Arsenal playmaker set him up to fire the final nail into the home side’s coffin.
On top of that, he tormented Israeli defender Eitan Tibi so much in a three minute spell shortly after the break that the home side had to operate with 10 men for the final 40 minutes.
Wales had been in Israel since Thursday and would have welcomed the light rain that greeted their arrival at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa – a venue that had been sold out for months. If Welsh fans were describing it as the biggest game in a decade for their team, then the Israelis were on the same page with regard to their own team.
Even their manager Eli Guttman admitted he had to pinch himself every time he looked at the table and saw nine points from their three opening games, but the acid test of his side’s chances of progressing to their first major finals since 1970 was bound to come down to this game and Tuesday night’s postponed clash with Belgium.
Wales managed Chris Coleman set-up his team brilliantly to stifle the home side’s creative midfield, reverting to a back three and playing five across the middle and allowing Gareth Bale and Hal Robson Kanu to roam. In meant the Israelis, who had plundered nine goals in wins over Cyprus, Andorra and Bosnia, were frustrated and kept locked up in their own half for the majority of the first half.
The crisp Welsh passing created plenty of space on the left hand side, where Ben Davies backed up his old Swansea City rival Neil Taylor, and the collective efforts of the two Joes, Allen and Ledley, and the stylish Aaron Ramsey in the midfield kept Wales on the front foot.
Wales created the more chances in the first-half, seven to two, and they could have picked up goals before they finally opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time. Ramsey ghosted into the home box and used the outside of his right foot to try to curl the ball into the right corner, Gareth Bale was twice set free, but failed to find the target and James Collins got the ball trapped under his size 12 feet rather than tapping it into an empty net.
Bu the pressure finally told in what was a terrible final few minutes at the end of the first-half for the Group leaders. Top scorer Omer Damari limped off in the 43rd minute, Lior Refaelov was booked for holding back Ramsey in the 44th and then Ramsey headed home his ninth international goal in the 45th.
Having created their earlier chances with some neat passing, the goal was a route one classic. Wayne Hennessey fired a goal kick down field, it bounced over the head of Robson Kanu on the edge of the Israeli box and Bale out jumped Omri Ben Harush to head the ball into the path of the rapidly advancing Ramsey who looped his header over Ofir Martziano in the home goal.
If that was the perfect ending to the first-half for Wales, they then got the perfect start to the second as well, notwithstanding they lost Ledley with a groin injury within two minutes of the re-start.
Bale got the chance to run at Tibi and was cut down six inches outside the penalty area. Tibi saw yellow an Bale struck the free kick over the wall and into the goal for his 15th international goal to draw level with the great John Charles.
Moments later Tibi found himself faced by the rampaging Bale once again and a body check earned him a second yellow and the inevitable red card. The wheels had come off the Israeli bandwagon and Bale’s second goal ensured Wales moved to the top of Group B with a final flourish.
Israel (4-3-3): Marciano; Dgani, Ben Haim I, Tibi, Ben Harush; Yeini, Natcho, Refaelov; Ben Haim II (Biton 60), Zahavi (Sahar 71), Damari (Hemed 42).
Wales (3-4-2-1): Hennessey; Collins, Williams, Davies; Gunter, Allen, Ledley (Vaughan 47), Taylor; Ramsey (MacDonald 85), Bale, R Robson-Kanu (Vokes 69).
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia)
Man of the match: Joe Allen (Wales)Reuse content