Wales' match winner Woodburn 'can be great'

Liverpool striker Ben Woodburn, 17, came on as a substitute for his Wales debut and scored only five minutes later to give his team a crucial victory over Austria.
Liverpool striker Ben Woodburn, 17, came on as a substitute for his Wales debut and scored only five minutes later to give his team a crucial victory over Austria.

CARDIFF • It was one of those pure strikes, the ball slicing through the air as if aided by aerodynamic enhancement, the goalkeeper diving merely to keep up appearances.

There was no stopping Ben Woodburn's first international goal, scored just five minutes after the 17-year-old had come off the bench to make his Wales debut.

It was a timeless moment, a goal that makes a fan stand up and shake a fellow supporter to check if what happened was real. That it also provided Wales with three crucial World Cup qualifying points only added to the nation's enjoyment.

The Liverpool striker secured Wales' 1-0 victory over Austria in Cardiff on Saturday to keep Chris Coleman's men unbeaten in qualifying and four points adrift of Group D leaders Serbia.

Wales also cut the gap to second-placed Republic of Ireland, held 1-1 in Georgia, to two points with three matches to play as they attempt to reach the World Cup finals for the first time since 1958.

"The ball just came out of the air and I just tried to shoot it as quickly as I could," Woodburn told Sky Sports after becoming Wales' second-youngest scorer in history at 17 years and 322 days, behind only Gareth Bale (17 years and 35 days).

"It's a great feeling, I couldn't ask for much more from the fans. I won't sleep tonight."

His effort earned rave reviews yesterday, with Coleman leading the praise.

"I know his strike was fantastic but his all-round composure was great too," the Wales manager said. "He has all the attributes to go on to be a great player."

Wales have provided some of the greats of British football down the years, such as Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs and Bale.

All-time top scorer Ian Rush was also encouraged to see Woodburn, who has made only a handful of appearances for Liverpool's first team, make an instant impact.

"I've been working with Ben since he was 14 years old and he has an amazing attitude, he keeps his feet on the ground," the Liverpool legend told the BBC.

"Playing with the likes of (Arsenal midfielder) Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale I think he is now realising what the world is all about.

"He probably won't start on Tuesday (against Moldova) but if he comes on he will do a job."

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2017, with the headline 'Wales' match winner Woodburn 'can be great''. Print Edition | Subscribe