No Bale but Wales put up a good fight

CARDIFF • As Wales got a glimpse of life without Gareth Bale, the Netherlands could only wonder what could have been if they had Arjen Robben fit for their last three Euro 2016 qualifiers.

The Bayern Munich star scored twice on Friday as the Dutch bounced back from their qualification failure to beat Wales 3-2 in a friendly at Cardiff City Stadium.

The Netherlands maintained their 100 per cent record against Wales after their eighth meeting.

Wales manager Chris Coleman began preparations for their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup without Real Madrid forward Bale. Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey was also absent.

But they twice equalised through Joe Ledley and substitute Emyr Huws, cancelling out efforts from Bas Dost and Robben.

The 31-year-old winger's second goal, however, condemned Wales - who conceded just four goals in 10 qualifiers - to defeat.

"He was outstanding," Netherlands manager Danny Blind said of his captain's display. "Of course, it's frustrating he couldn't play more during the qualifying campaign (because of a groin injury), but it's good to have him back and he's a fantastic player."

The Dutch lost eight of their 14 matches since finishing third at the World Cup. In a bid to revive their fortunes, Blind reverted to the 3-5-2 system that Louis van Gaal had employed in Brazil, with Robben partnering Dost up front.

In Bale's absence, Blackburn Rovers loanee Tom Lawrence was handed the No. 11 shirt. He twice threatened to mark his full debut with a goal, cutting inside Virgil van Dijk and shooting tamely at Jasper Cillessen from Joe Allen's pass, and dragging a shot wide.

Even without Bale and Ramsey, Wales displayed the same composure in possession that had been a feature of their play in qualifying.

"It's good for (the fringe players) to get minutes because now we're building towards France," said Coleman.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 15, 2015, with the headline 'No Bale but Wales put up a good fight'. Print Edition | Subscribe