Wales took a significant stride towards qualifying for the second round of Euro 2020 as they overcame Turkey after a gripping encounter in Baku.
With a crowd of more than 30,000 in Azerbaijan’s capital city effectively making this a home game for Turkey, Wales responded to the hostile atmosphere with a vibrant, attacking display in which they cut their opponents open at will.
After a host of missed chances in a breathless first half, Gareth Bale played a brilliant lofted pass through the heart of the Turkish defence for Aaron Ramsey, who brought the ball down and finished elegantly.
Although Turkey came back strongly, Wales squandered a glorious opportunity to consolidate their lead when captain Bale ballooned a penalty over the bar.
There were some nervous moments for the Welsh defence as they withstood Turkish attacks – with Danny Ward making a vital late save to deny Merih Demiral.
But Connor Roberts struck from a corner deep in injury time to seal a win that takes Wales to four points with one match left in the group stage.
That final fixture will be in Rome on Sunday against Group A favourites Italy, who face Switzerland later on Wednesday.
Having drawn 1-1 with Switzerland in their opening fixture last Saturday, Wales will keep a close eye on events at the Stadio Olimpico as that match could have a major bearing on their hopes of reach the last 16.
But regardless of events in Rome, this impressive performance and result against Turkey – tipped by many before this tournament as potential dark horses – marked a remarkable transformation from Robert Page’s side.
Wales were passive, often disjointed in their opening 1-1 draw with Switzerland on Saturday but, despite making no changes for this match, they were unrecognisable.
Bale and Ramsey, anonymous against the Swiss, were heavily involved from the start and combined to excellent effect.
Skipper Bale found Ramsey with a fine through ball in the sixth minute and, after turning inside Caglar Soyuncu, the Juventus midfielder’s shot at the near post was saved by Ugurcan Cakir.
With Bale swapping wings with Daniel James, an absolute menace for the Turkish defence, there was a purpose and pace to Wales’ game which had been lacking in their opening fixture.
They were constantly creating chances, with James crossing for Kieffer Moore – who headed over – before another Bale through ball set up Ramsey, who rushed and blazed his shot over the bar.
If there was a creeping sense that these squandered opportunities would come back to bite Wales, those fears were eased when their stellar combination delivered at the third time of asking.
Bale picked up possession near halfway, saw Ramsey’s run in behind Turkey’s defence and found his team-mate with an expertly measured chip. Ramsey’s control was of equal quality, as was his low finish.
Bale miss matters not
Fortunate not to be further behind but willed on by a vociferous, overwhelmingly Turkish-Azeri crowd, Turkey were set up in a far more attacking manner for the second half with full-backs and wingers pushing further upfield.
Captain Burak Yilmaz had a glorious opportunity to equalise nine minutes into the second half when Kaan Ayhan headed the ball on in the Wales area, but the Lille striker volleyed over from close range.
That was one of several Turkish efforts in a period of intense pressure and, having withstood it, Wales were presented with a gift of a chance to extend their lead.
Bale took on Mehmet Zeki Celik inside the penalty area and, as the Turkey right-back dangled his leg, pushed the ball ahead of him and was taken down.
Referee Artur Dias pointed to the spot and Bale stepped up, staggering his run-up before striking the penalty way over the bar.
Turkey were not done yet – Demiral’s powerful header was well saved by Ward with just three minutes left – but it was Wales who had the final say.
Unaffected by his penalty miss, Bale danced his way into Turkey’s box in added time and laid the ball on to the tireless Roberts, whose clinical low finish silenced the home crowd and left the hardy few hundred Wales fans to celebrate long into the night.