Goal machine Bale is the toast of Wales yet again
WALES 2 AUSTRIA 1
ANOTHER virtuoso display from Gareth Bale secured Chris Coleman just a second win as Wales boss as a goal and an assist were good enough to down Austria.
The Tottenham flyer has now scored four in four for his country (and seven in his last nine) plus three goals in the past seven days to undermine his credentials as one of the brightest shining stars in European football.
Judging by the crowd reaction to his name being read before the game it wasn’t just the English newspaper reporters who came solely to see Bale, the Tottenham man in such spectacular form that even his starting position is a talking point.
Bale has largely been deployed on the right in recent games – especially if Wales need to accommodate Craig Bellamy who usually roves on the left – and that’s where he started.
All the talk was of Bale being used as a central striker but Coleman opted to at least start the contest with Bellamy as his lone forward with Gwent’s Jack Collison playing from the left, though by half time Bale was deployed as Wales’ central striker with Bellamy switched to the flanks.
But it was the visitors who could’ve gone in front as early as the third minute, Villa’s Andreas Weimann involved in an exchange that forced Celtic’s Adam Matthews to head off his own line.
And it was the turn of Boaz Myhill to rescue Wales next as the Austrians broke again, Andreas Ivanschitz’s fierce drive beaten to safety.
Only when Bale burned through the Austrian rearguard did Wales look anything approaching a threat so it was a surprise that their first attack came from another outlet, Bellamy winning possession and exchanging passes before shooting across goal and just wide of the far post.
However, Bale wasn’t in the mood for waiting around and with his first sniff of goal he gave Wales the lead.
It wasn’t a stunner to compare to his recent efforts at Carrow Road or the Hawthornes but it was still a fine finish, Bale surging clear and tucking home after an inch perfect pass from Joe Allen sent him on his way midway through the first half.
However, it was the visitors who were the more consistent goal threat, Werder Bremen star Marko Arnautovic forcing a fine save out of Myhill that Ivanschitz probably should have turned home, firing the rebound over the bar before the interval.
And it was Myhill who intervened again when Sebastian Prodl’s header from David Alaba’s corner looked to be heading in. Alaba is a product of Bayern Munich and it was easy to see why, especially when his dipping volley struck the base of the post on the stroke of half time.
However, there was simply no stopping Bale who underlined it really doesn’t matter where he plays just after the interval when he latched onto a loose ball and crossed perfectly for sub Sam Vokes whose powerful header was too good for Robert Almer.
That came from the Tottenham man being deployed in a free role behind the centre forward and there was shock throughout the Liberty Stadium when Bale fired wide with Almer well beaten just before the hour mark, his last significant act in a contest where he once again wrote the headlines.
As is often the case the contest lost its sparkle after the changes and Austria got back into things with 15 minutes remaining, captain Marc Janko heading home Marko Arnautovic’s perfect centre. Seconds later Arnautovic almost levelled and without Bale, it seemed inevitable Wales would be hanging on to secure victory.
However, goalkeeper Myhill was in inspired form, producing the best performance by a Welsh stopper in quite some time to allow the hosts to hold on as he made two decent late stops.
Wales: Myhill, Matthews (Gunter 72), Davies, Ricketts, Williams, Allen, Ledley, Vaughan (King 46), Collison (Church 84), Bellamy (Vokes 46), Bale (Robson-Kanu 60)
Subs not used: Fon Williams, Davies, Richards, Wilson, Brown
Austria: Almer, Pogatetz, Ivanschitz, Arnautovic, Alaba, Weimann, Suttner, Prodl, Klein, Kavlac, Janko Subs: Linder, Konigshofer, Garics, Dragovic, Fuchs, Junuzovic, Sabiter, Baumgartlinger, Jantscher, Leitgeb, Hosiner, Schiemer
Booked: Klein (38)
Referee: Menashe Mesiah (Israel)
Argus star man: Gareth Bale