Belfast Telegraph

Bale swoops to net big win for Wales

Wales 2 Azerbaijan 1

Goal hero: Gareth Bale came to Wales’ rescue
Goal hero: Gareth Bale came to Wales’ rescue

By Phil Blanche

Gareth Bale spared Wales a humiliating night in Euro 2020 qualifying with a late winner in a 2-1 home victory over Azerbaijan.

Bale struck his 32nd goal for Wales six minutes from time, rising to head home after Joe Allen's shot had been deflected high into the Cardiff air.

Wales had been gifted a first-half lead when Pavlo Pashayev scored a bizarre own goal, but Mahir Emreli punished a sloppy home display with a 58th-minute equaliser.

Azerbaijan are ranked 109th in the world - a whopping 85 places below Wales - and their only competitive away wins came in the Faroe Islands and San Marino. But Wales, who could not afford to drop points after June defeats in Croatia and Hungary, were poor throughout and there was more relief than satisfaction at the final whistle. Wales did not manage an on-target attempt until first-half stoppage time.

Lawrence accepted Allen's pass and cut on to his left foot, but Agayev saved comfortably.

Azerbaijan had their own moment of good fortune when Emreli escaped with a swinging arm on Mepham, the Maltese referee again showing his lenient side.

Wales were still struggling to get out of first gear when Azerbaijan landed a sucker punch.

Taylor's mistake allowed Ramil Sheydaev to release Emreli, who had the freedom of the Wales half to run into.

Emreli's effort was tame, but Wayne Hennessey failed to hold the shot and the rebound was summarily dispatched.

Wales poured forward in search of a winner, but time was running out until Bale - as he has so often done in the past - proved their saviour.

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