CARDIFF, United Kingdom (AFP) - Gareth Bale grabbed centre-stage as vibrant Wales tore Ireland apart in the first competitive game of the Ryan Giggs era on Thursday (Sept 6), launching their UEFA Nations League campaign in style with a 4-1 win.
The home side ensured the game was over as a meaningful contest by half-time, blowing Ireland away with goals from Tom Lawrence, Bale and Aaron Ramsey.
With confidence surging, the men in red scored a fourth goal 10 minutes after the break when Bale set up Connor Roberts, who rifled the ball past Darren Randolph.
Shaun Williams grabbed a consolation when he robbed Ramsey outside his own box and dinked the ball over Wayne Hennessey.
"We had to put a good performance in, first home game of the new regime," Bale told Sky Sports.
"We wanted to show what we were capable of and make a statement. We're looking to win every game and win the group. The manager is trying to stamp his own style on the team. There's a lot to improve on but there's a lot to enjoy."
The victory might not have erased the pain of Wales's World Cup elimination last October when Ireland won 1-0 at the same Cardiff City Stadium venue.
But the manner of the performance, with talented youngsters Ethan Ampadu, 17, and 21-year-old David Brooks excelling on their first competitive starts and Bale at his brilliant best, gave a tantalising glimpse of a bright future.
Harry Arter and Declan Rice had declared themselves unavailable for Ireland and James McClean, who had scored the Ireland's winner in Cardiff 11 months ago, headed a lengthy injury list that had reduced Martin O'Neill's options.
A satisfied Giggs said his team, who dominated possession and created a succession of chances, played great football, singling out Ampadu for praise.
"Ethan is a talented player," he said. "Even more so than that, as a person, he's so balanced and mature for such a young player. He'll be a magnificent player."
Chelsea midfielder Ampadu started the move that led to the sixth-minute opener, launching the attack with a raking crossfield ball. Joe Allen supplied the killer pass for Lawrence to lash the ball home.
Just 12 minutes later Real Madrid forward Bale controlled a long pass from Tottenham fullback Ben Davies on his chest before cutting inside and curling a left-foot shot past Randolph from the edge of the box for his 30th international goal.
Ampadu was again at the heart of the action for Wales's third goal, surging forward from the halfway line and playing a perfectly timed through-ball to Arsenal's Ramsey, who finished coolly at the near post.
Roberts' strike was his first in senior football as confidence surged through the home side and Bale almost added another with an audacious chip.