Bale driving Wales to brink of history

Wales football star Gareth Bale celebrating his winner against Cyprus, which sees his country just one win away from securing their place in next year's European Championships.
Wales football star Gareth Bale celebrating his winner against Cyprus, which sees his country just one win away from securing their place in next year's European Championships.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

NICOSIA (Cyprus) • Gareth Bale believes he and his Wales team-mates are ready to rewrite history with the "best thing we've achieved".

The Champions League winner with Real Madrid headed the goal that gave Wales a crucial 1-0 win over Cyprus in their Euro 2016 qualifier on Thursday.

And the Dragons will qualify for a leading tournament for the first time in 58 years if they defeat Israel at home tomorrow.

"We've never done it so I'm guessing it's going to be hard," said Bale after Wales stayed top of Group B, with 17 points from seven games.

"But this group is focused, we really know what we need to do and hopefully we can deliver on Sunday. It would probably be the best thing we've achieved.

"If we can get across the line it'll be an amazing thing, not just for us but for the whole nation and the whole of Welsh football."

Bale gave Cyprus goalkeeper Antonis Giorgallides no chance as he met Aaron Ramsey's cross from the right with a powerful header after 82 minutes to spark wild celebrations among the players, coaching staff and travelling fans.

The world's most expensive footballer has now scored six and set up two of the nine goals that Wales have netted during qualifying.

Cyprus, harbouring hopes of a third-place finish which brings a play-off spot, matched Wales for an hour before fading. But they came close to an equaliser when substitute Pieros Sotiriou's 87th-minute attempt went just wide.

The top two team in the group will qualify for next year's finals in France. Belgium are second on 14 points, while Cyprus are three points behind Israel (12) in fourth.

Wales last qualified for a major tournament at the 1958 World Cup, with legends like Ryan Giggs, Ian Rush and Mark Hughes all denied the chance to showcase their talents on the biggest stage because of to their country's struggles.

Chris Coleman's Class of 2015 have already made history. They have now gone 10 games unbeaten, their longest run without defeat.

"It was always going to be difficult. The pitch was woeful, it was hot and humid, and the opposition had nothing to lose," Coleman said. "It wasn't one of our better performances, but a huge win. There was a lot of pressure on us and the players handled it magnificently."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2015, with the headline 'Bale driving Wales to brink of history'. Print Edition | Subscribe