Hughes settles Welsh nerves

San Marino 0 Wales 5
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The Independent Online
The possibility of defeat, and the shame that would have brought to Bobby Gould's team, had been a worry before the start but Wales were able to launch their qualifying campaign for the 1998 World Cup with a comfortable win last night.

Their biggest away victory for 31 years may not register a tremor in the camps of the Netherlands, Belgium and Turkey - the heavyweights of Group Seven - but it will do very nicely for starters.

Others, notably Scotland, have struggled to be impressive in the picturesque Stadio Di Serravalle, situated half-way up the mountain that doubles as in independent country.

The size of the scoreline against the part-timers will not be relevant to the outcome of this section. Goals against the weakest nation do not count in the final reckoning. However, they were hugely significant for Mark Hughes who has experienced a strange season at international level with his commitment the subject of much attention.

Last night he helped himself to a first-half double that will do him a power of good while at the same time settling his side's nervousness. They were his first Welsh goals for three years and should put an end to the doubts that surround his working relationship with Gould.

In the two, embarrassing seasons before Gould took control Wales had managed to lose to both Moldova and Georgia in a humbling series of results. Last week in a warm up game a defeat in a friendly at Leyton Orient was interpreted as a sign of just how low the Welsh stock had fallen.

San Marino gave them an early scare when Paolo Montagna slipped in Alessandro Casadei was not designed to lift Welsh hearts. However, in the 20th minute came the all important opener, a first international goal for the Sunderland defender Andrew Melville who profited from a Hughes drive which came back off the goalkeeper.

A Mark Pembridge corner 12 minutes later evaded the towering leap of Chris Coleman but the ball fell to Hughes whose technique with a right foot volley was typically impeccable.

Two minutes before half-time Mark Bowen threaded a low pass into the inside-right channel and this time Chelsea's beligerant striker took precise aim with a low drive.

The hat-trick he was seeking was thwarted by a fine save early in the second half. A shade more inevitable, perhaps, was his booking for kicking the ball away in dissent. The fourth goal fell to Ryan Giggs, a sweet left foot connection taking the ball inside the far post.

The win was completed five minutes from time when Pembridge emerged at the far post for the finishing touch to a Giggs centre from the right.

SAN MARINO: (4-5-1): F Muccilli (Valconca); Gasperoni (Pietracuta), Guerra (Juvenes), M Valentini (Rimini Calcio), Gobbi (Juvenes); Casadei (Secchiano), Manzaroli (AC San Marino), Pasolini (Ponte Verucchio), Mazza (AC San Marino), Mularoni (Juvenes), Montagna (Juvenes). Substitutes: V Valentini (Ponte Verucchio) for Mularoni, 50; R Muccilli (Bagnacavallo) for Pasolini, 70.

WALES (4-2-4): Southall (Everton); Bowen (Norwich), Melville (Sunderland), Coleman (Blackburn), Pembridge (Sheffield Wednesday); Horne (Everton), Browning (Bristol Rovers); Robinson (Charlton), Hughes (Chelsea), Saunders (Galatasaray), Giggs (Manchester United). Substitutes: Goss (Norwich City) for Browning, 74; Legg (Birmingham City) for Robinson, 79; Savage (Crewe) for Horne, 81.

Referee: M Lubos (Slovakia).