Gareth Bale helps Ryan Giggs' Wales era start with a bang to rout hopeless Ireland

Ben Bloom
The Telegraph
Gareth Bale scored a brilliant goal as Wales blitzed Ireland - Getty Images Europe
Gareth Bale scored a brilliant goal as Wales blitzed Ireland - Getty Images Europe

The hair is greying now, the body not quite as lithe as it used to be, his brilliance on the pitch consigned to memory, but this Wales performance was a reminder of everything Ryan Giggs used to be as a player.

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In his first competitive game as manager, Wales came alive, reborn in his image, revived and reignited by the spark of youth, their energy and excitement blended perfectly with the calmness of the experienced players alongside them, everything finished off with a sprinkling of superstar quality from the magnificent Gareth Bale.

“Me as a player, I got a chance when I was young, but I also played on until I was 40, so I understand both sides,” said Giggs. “I had good pro's in the dressing room and they helped me and I've got the same here. I'm lucky to have a really good balance.

“I talked about them expressing themselves and trusting each other and that's what I got. We could have scored more but to get four in any game is special. Not many teams could have lived with us tonight.”

If Giggs already knew the most important thing about this Wales side – that anything is possible when Bale stays fit - he learned something far more significant with this thrashing of dismal, dreary Ireland.

<span>Bale's goal was the type of moment of genius we have come to expect from him</span> <span>Credit: getty images </span>
Bale's goal was the type of moment of genius we have come to expect from him Credit: getty images

There are no surprises where Bale is concerned, he makes the extraordinary seem routine, as he did when scoring Wales’ second goal, taking down a 60-yard crossfield pass on his chest, cutting inside and curling a shot into the far corner.

What Giggs is doing, in keeping with the Manchester United side he thrived in for so long, is building a fresher, younger, exciting team around the Real Madrid star and the other wise old heads. That is where the real positives were found.

In the 17-year-old Chelsea midfielder, Ethan Ampadu – who also qualified to play for England and Ireland – he has found a classy, ball playing defensive midfielder. “He is going to be magnificent player,” gushed Giggs. “It’s not just what he does on the pitch, it’s the way he handles himself off it.”

In Derby County’s Tom Lawrence, Wales might just have discovered another Craig Bellamy, a buzzing insect of a striker, with Swansea’s Conner Roberts, 22, also looking good long before he scored Wales’ fourth goal.

<span>Tom Lawrence had scored the first of the evening</span> <span>Credit: getty images </span>
Tom Lawrence had scored the first of the evening Credit: getty images

There were also sparks supplied by Bournemouth’s David Brooks, 21, while 20-year-old Brentford centre back Chris Mepham slotted in comfortably alongside Ashley Williams in defence.

The future looks increasingly bright for Wales, while for Ireland, this was as dismal as things have been for years. They have lacked exciting forward players for far too long, but this was a horrendously disjointed performance; a humiliation that points to the international wilderness rather than tournament football.

Quite what that means for manager Martin O’Neill is open to question, but he has huge job on his hands, a challenge that will draw on all his years in the game if he is to conquer it. “We were second best to virtually everything and it was an extremely tough night,” O’Neill said. “We made so many mistakes, we will learn from that. We should do better, but it has not diminished my enthusiasm for the job, not one bit.”

Sometimes it all down to perception. Giggs arrives like smell of an air freshener, crisp, clean, bursting with bold ideas. By contrast, there are those in Ireland who will try to convince you that is O’Neill is stale and stodgy, stuck in his ways, an analogue manager in a digital world.

Whether he will ever be able to change that view on the other side of the Irish Sea is doubtful given the entrenched opposition in some quarters. As he would be the first to admit, he is a hostage to results and this was a dreadful way to start Uefa’s new League of Nations competition.

<span>Ethan Ampadu was hugely impressive for Wales</span> <span>Credit: reuters </span>
Ethan Ampadu was hugely impressive for Wales Credit: reuters

Wales were dominant from start to finish, taking an early lead when Lawrence ran in behind Ciaran Clark, picked out superbly by Joe Allen, and beat Darren Randolph inside his near post.

Trying to keep Wales quiet looked beyond Ireland and after Bale had doubled the lead, Giggs’ side sliced through them repeatedly, Aaron Ramsey eventually scoring the third after a brilliant pass from the thrilling Ampadu.

Wales remained in control after the break, Roberts smashing another shot home from the edge of the area, before Ireland scored a consolation, substitute Shane Williams robbing Ramsey and dinking a shot over Wayne Hennessey.

9:40PM

Full time: Wales 4 Ireland 1

Comprehensive. One of the best Wales performance in recent years. It was all just so easy. What a way for the Ryan Giggs competitive era to begin.

9:38PM

90+4 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

Christie attempts a jinking run as he looks for a way through the Wales defence, but only succeeds in giving away a foul after losing the ball.

9:38PM

90+3 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

The middle of the pitch is getting a battering in these closing stages.

9:36PM

90+2 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

Ireland are incapable of causing Wales any problems.

9:34PM

90 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

Five minutes of injury time to be played.

9:32PM

87 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

Shoot, you muppet. Roberts plays Brooks into the penalty area and the Bournemouth man only has the keeper to beat. He waits, wait again and then waits some more before finally deciding to shoot just as the covering defender slides in to throw himself in front of the effort. All it needed was a poke past Randolph and that would have been five.

9:30PM

85 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

Brooks is enjoying too much space in these closing stages. This time his shot from range is blocked on its way towards the goal.

9:27PM

82 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

The Welsh are still coming. Brooks's low corner finds its way to Lawrence who... erm... air kicks with his attempted shot. Brooks then drives back into the six-yard box where his cut back is halted in the nick of time.

9:25PM

80 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

The substitutions come to an end with Davies off for Dummett.

9:23PM

79 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

Brilliant from Roberts. The Leeds striker drives confidently from the halfway line, weaving his way through the Ireland defence as he does so. A little one-two later, he looks up on the edge of the penalty area and strikes the ball towards the bottom corner, where Randolph palms it away for a corner.

9:21PM

76 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

Better from Wales as Ramsey's attempted dink is blocked inside the six-yard box and Smith's long-range effort is well held by Hennessey. A final Ireland change sees Horgan replace Robinson.

9:19PM

75 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

A huge round of applause around the ground for Bale, whose night is over. He's not bad, that chap. The man to replace him in Leeds United man Tyler Roberts.

9:18PM

73 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

The tempo has dropped significantly since that Ireland goal. Wales are now content to sit back in possession and their push for a fifth looks to be over. Cue a goal...

9:16PM

71 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

Great minds, Luke...

9:15PM

70 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

I tell you something: Ampadu was hugely impressive for a man of his (in)experience tonight. Allen has dropped a little deeper now to fill in for the teenager.

9:13PM

69 min: Wales 4 Ireland 1

Well that was a bit silly from Ramsey. It won't mean much, but they really should have kept a clean sheet tonight. Meanwhile, Ampadu is off to be replaced by Smith.

9:12PM

GOAL! Wales 4 Ireland 1 (Williams)

A shocker from Ramsey and a total gift for the Ireland substitute. The Arsenal man is far too complacent with the ball on the edge of his own penalty area and his touch is awful as he is pick-pocketed by Williams, who then dinks over the onrushing Hennessey to pull one back for Ireland.

9:10PM

65 min: Wales 4 Ireland 0

Everyone fancies a piece of the action. The Welsh are purring here and the move ends with Allen having a crack from a silly distance out. They are moving the ball around like Barcelona right now. At least, Ireland are making them look like Barcelona.

9:08PM

64 min: Wales 4 Ireland 0

Not a bad way for Roberts to score his first ever goal in senior football...

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9:07PM

62 min: Wales 4 Ireland 0

There's no sign whatsoever of Wales siting back on their lead here. Bale has the ball in the back of the net again after a thunderous shot past Randolph, but the Real Madrid man was ever so slightly offside as he sprinted beyond the Ireland back line and the goal is ruled out.

9:05PM

60 min: Wales 4 Ireland 0

A second change of the night (after the introduction of Williams for Hourihane) sees Ward head off to be replaced by Enda Stevens.

9:04PM

59 min: Wales 4 Ireland 0

"Keano, what's the score?" sing the Wales contingent in the stands. Unsurprisingly, they are rather enjoying this.

9:02PM

57 min: Wales 4 Ireland 0

Nearly a fifth as Bale attempts to curl the ball into the top corner from the edge of the area and it flies just over the bar. Rampant. Totally rampant.

9:01PM

GOAL! Wales 4 Ireland 0 (Roberts)

Party time in Wales. Bale pings an outrageous pass from the far left side of the penalty area to Roberts, who is unmarked on the right. The full-back's control sees the ball bounce up, before he smashes it on the half-volley past Randolph. Another cracker.

8:59PM

54 min: Wales 3 Ireland 0

It's "Olé" time in Cardif as Wales knock the ball around in Ireland's half, but Martin O'Neill's side then head down the other end of the pitch where Coleman picks out Robinson in front of goal. He should at least hit the target, but can only manage to nod the ball over the bar.

8:58PM

53 min: Wales 3 Ireland 0

BANTER ALERT.

8:56PM

52 min: Wales 3 Ireland 0

A first yellow card of the night is shown to Clark for a clear body check on Bale well off the ball on the halfway line. That was cynical as the Welshman was just about to burst clear of the Ireland defence and into the opposition half.

8:55PM

50 min: Wales 3 Ireland 0

Can a set piece be Ireland's route back into this game? A corner is met by Duffy, but his header nestles straight into Hennessey's hands in the middle of the goal.

8:53PM

49 min: Wales 3 Ireland 0

It's all red out there with Wales camped on the edge of Ireland's 18-yard box, but there's no chance to get a shot away this time as Bale gives the ball away.

8:52PM

47 min: Wales 3 Ireland 0

Wales are straight into attacking mode at the start of this second half, playing the ball through the Ireland defence with neat one-twos.

8:50PM

46 min: Wales 3 Ireland 0

No half-time changes to either side. What can Ireland do to halt this rout?

8:46PM

Wales will face full-strength Denmark side

Here's a snippet from Jeremy Wilson's piece on the truce between the Danish FA and their leading players:

Wales will face a full-strength Denmark team in their Uefa Nations League match on Sunday after an agreement was reached between the Danish Football Association and its players.

The Danish FA (DBU) announced on Thursday evening that it had agreed a temporary deal with the players' association.

8:39PM

It's not his fault, mate

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8:35PM

Half time: Wales 3 Ireland 0

The whistle signals the end of the half and you have to think this match has been put to bed already - goals from Lawrence, Bale and Ramsey have made sure of that. The home side have been rampant.

8:33PM

45 mins: Wales 3 Ireland 0

Two minutes of added time to play.

8:31PM

44 mins: Wales 3 Ireland 0

Ireland are trying. They aren't just sitting back and they haven't given up. They just aren't good enough.

8:28PM

41 mins: Wales 3 Ireland 0

Oh dear. O'Dowda attempts a cross from the left wing and succeeds only in leathering the ball into the stands. This is bad. Very bad.

8:27PM

40 mins: Wales 3 Ireland 0

This is a bit of a shambles from Ireland.

8:26PM

GOAL! Wales 3 Ireland 0 (Ramsey)

Wales are rampant. Walters loses the ball on the halfway line to Ampadu and the young Chelsea man capitalises brilliantly by surging forward and threading a lovely ball in to Ramsey. The Arsenal man takes a touch as he makes his way into the Ireland penalty area and then drills the ball low to beat Randolph at the near post. Could the keeper do better? Perhaps.

8:23PM

36 mins: Wales 2 Ireland 0

Down the other end and Ireland have their best chance of the match. Coleman is heavily involved down the right before the ball is laid off to Robinson inside the Wales penalty area, but his shot is poor and loops over the bar. He should have done better.

8:22PM

35 mins: Wales 2 Ireland 0

Another huge chance for Wales. Davies is again creator with an inch-perfect whipped cross from the left that picks out Roberts on the edge of the Ireland six-yard box. The right-back really should score, but somehow he nods the ball over the bar from close range. Full-back to full-back

8:21PM

33 mins: Wales 2 Ireland 0

Here's the early take from our man Luke Edwards. If you like that, there will be more from him in his match report on the whistle!

8:19PM

31 mins: Wales 2 Ireland 0

Wales are being forced to defend more at the moment, but they have such numbers on the counter-attack. From their own penalty area, Wales hare straight down the other end in a matter of seconds for Lawrence to thump a brutal long-range effort that Randolph beats away to his right.

8:16PM

28 mins: Wales 2 Ireland 0

I've just seen a replay of that Bale goal. That ball he controlled so beautifully was a cross-field 50-yard ping from Davies at left-back. Woof.

8:15PM

27 mins: Wales 2 Ireland 0

Another chance for Ireland as Hendrick stands over a free-kick about 35 yards out on the left. He curls towards the penalty spot, but the ball is put out for a corner that comes to nothing. This is at least more promising for the Irish.

8:14PM

26 mins: Wales 2 Ireland 0

Ooh, that was a decent opening for Ireland. Christie sprints from his own half into the Wales final third and has Robinson to his left as Ireland have a three-on-two to exploit. But exploit it they cannot. Christie's attempt to find his team-mate is cut out by Williams and that is that.

8:11PM

24 mins: Wales 2 Ireland 0

A first corner of the game gives Ireland a chance to whip the ball into the mixer, but Hennessey comes off his line to punch clear.

8:10PM

23 mins: Wales 2 Ireland 0

Ireland are at least seeing more of the ball since that second goal, but they haven't managed to work it into Wales' 18-yard box yet. This stat comes courtesy of the folks at whoscored.com:

  • Gareth Bale has scored or assisted in each of his first five appearances for club and country this season, playing a direct hand in six goals in the process (four goals, two assists).

8:08PM

21 mins: Wales 2 Ireland 0

Do you reckon he'll keep this on for the whole 90 minutes? Might help him hide from what his side are doing on the pitch...

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8:07PM

20 mins: Wales 2 Ireland 0

My word, that was quiet something from Bale. Ireland aren't going to win this match.

8:06PM

GOAL! Wales 2 Ireland 0 (Bale)

WHAT A GOAL. Absolutely sublime. And you know who scored it. Of course you do. Bale kills a long ball totally dead on his chest and then cuts inside from the right flank. A quick look up, picks his spot and then - BANG. Curled expertly into the far top corner from 25 yards. Too good. Way too good.

8:03PM

16 mins: Wales 1 Ireland 0

The movement of the Welsh front three (Bale, Lawrence and Brooks) is causing plenty of problems for the Ireland defence. This time Davies cuts inside from left back and crosses to Bale, who rises highest and heads over the bar.

8:01PM

14 mins: Wales 1 Ireland 0

A first shot for the visitors sees O'Dowda have a crack from range, but Hennessey is untroubled despite a flick off Williams and the Wales keeper catches the ball without concern.

8:00PM

12 mins: Wales 1 Ireland 0

Wales dictating proceedings here and passing around with ease in the middle of the park as Ireland chase the ball in an attempt to gain possession.

7:57PM

10 mins: Wales 1 Ireland 0

CODE VIOLATION! The referee has just had a word with Williams, because the Wales skipper isn't wearing his captain's armband. I wonder if that will land him a £5 fine, as happens in the busybody 11-a-side league I play in. A rather large part of me hopes that is the case. And heaven forbid he, or any other player, wears the wrong coloured sock tape.

7:55PM

8 mins: Wales 1 Ireland 0

Not a bad way for the (competitive) Giggs era to begin. Ampadu has been very impressive so far, dropping in to help his defence out when required and knocking the ball about in the opposition's half with ease.

7:54PM

GOAL! Wales 1 Ireland 0 (Lawrence)

That didn't take long. Ampadu spread the ball beautifully to Brooks on the right wing. It is then worked to Allen, who threads a sumptuous throughball to Lawrence and the Derby man drills it past Randolph. No chance at all for the Ireland keeper from close range.

7:51PM

4 mins: Wales 0 Ireland 0

The Welsh have started far the brighter in Cardiff. This time Brooks (another on competitive debut) curls a beautiful ball to from the far right to Bale on the other side of the penalty area, but the Galactico cannot get a shot away.

7:49PM

2 mins: Wales 0 Ireland 0

Ampadu, on his competitive international debut aged 17, brings the ball forward for Wales, who drive up to the Irish 18-yard before the move breaks down. What a moment this is for the Chelsea teenager.

7:47PM

Game time

Wales are in red. Ireland in white. Let's do this.

7:42PM

National anthems

The players are out and it's time for a spot of singing before the action begins.

7:39PM

Breaking news

The Danish FA have reached an agreement with their players which means Denmark will be able to field their first team against Wales on Sunday. Phew. Relief all round.

But what happens to the Futsal chaps who stepped against Slovakia last night??? Wouldn't it be great if one of them had impressed so much that he retained his place?

7:36PM

Head to head

There is, of course, quite a significant recent history between these two sides.

It was in this fixture that Seamus Coleman suffered a broken leg after a horrible tackled from Neil Taylor back in March 2017. The two sides then met again last October when Ireland were triumphant 1-0 to end Wales' hopes of qualifying for the World Cup.

Coleman is back captaining the Ireland side tonight and says he is not thinking about the incident that caused him to miss almost a year of football:

That night in Dublin is something that I'm not really thinking about, it's 18 months ago. I've not forgotten about it, but it's something from the past.

These games are a little bit different to playing other nationalities because you do know the players you're up against, but they are still great games to play in.

7:26PM

All for one

James McClean injured his wrist in training a couple of days ago and had to go undergo surgery. But he's hauled himself off the operating table and is in Cardiff supporting this evening:

7:10PM

Giggs era

This match marks the start of the Ryan Giggs era as the first competitive game - and the first home match - with the former Manchester United man at the helm.

In the opposite dugout will be Giggs' former Manchester United team-mate Roy Keane and Jeremy Wilson has written this piece about the battle between the pair. You can read a snippet here:

There is an anecdote about Ryan Giggs in Roy Keane’s autobiography The Second Half that tells you much about both men. 

It was the summer of 2004. Arsenal had just gone a season unbeaten in the Premier League and, desperate to find an added edge, Keane agreed to join Giggs at a food detox clinic in Milan that his team-mate had previously found useful. Day one: No food. Day two: No food. Day three: Carrot juice. Giggs took the regime all in his stride; Keane became obsessed and secretly attempted to carry even some of the more extreme elements – no red meat, minimal sugar and no mixing carbohydrates and protein – into the season. 

He had the body fat of an Olympic marathon runner but became so weakened by an iron deficiency that he missed the infamous 2-0 “Pizza-gate” victory over Arsenal. “I was gutted that I missed that game – and all the fighting that went on in the tunnel afterwards,” he later said. 

Giggs of course did play, but it can be safely assumed that he was rather further from United’s front line for the off-field carnage than his captain would have been.

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6:50PM

Team news

Here are your runners and riders:

6:47PM

Match preview

This is where it all begins. September 6, 2018, is the day the Uefa Nations League was introduced to the world. An historic moment... of sorts.

First things first, the chances are you do not understand how this competition works. Harry Maguire has admitted he does not understand how it works. I did not understand how it works either until my colleague Ali Tweedale put his maths degree to good use and provided a handy explainer. You can read it BY CLICKING HERE.

I can vaguely bottle it into two points:

  • This is a competition in its own right - a winner will be crowned next year.

  • This competition might have a bearing on qualification for Euro 2020. But only for those teams who fail to automatically qualify for Euro 2020 via the conventional route. To find out what happens at that point, I refer you to Ali's piece.

Anyway, tonight sees Ireland travel to Wales for their opening Nations League encounter.

The build-up to this week has been somewhat unconventional from both teams' perspective. The Irish news has been dominated by the fallout from Bournemouth midfielder Harry Arter's decision to pull out of the squad after an argument with assistant coach Roy Keane.

With injuries and Arter's absence, their squad of 26 features just eight Premier League players.

Wales go into this match knowing their second Nations League fixture of the week - against Denmark on Sunday - will see them go up against a bunch of amateurs and Futsal players after a contract row decimated the entire Danish setup. Those misfits lost 3-0 in a friendly against Slovakia last night, which is a decent effort really.

Wales' encounter with the Danes is a few days away and all focus tonight will be on the immediate task at hand against Ireland.

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