Wales 2 Hungary 0
After waiting nearly six decades for a place at one international tournament, Wales will now be attending their second in four years. That statement alone says plenty about both the quality of this current generation of Welsh players and the excitement coursing through the country’s football right now.
What has changed to allow Wales to enter this new era, where a place at a major international event is now seen as a base-level target rather than a hopeful aspiration? A large part of the answer could be found in their first goal here, when one world class player combined with another to set Wales on course for Euro 2020 and all the dreams that come with it.
Gareth Bale provided, Aaron Ramsey finished. Their support act is strong, and seemingly growing stronger, but once again these two players proved it is they who determine Wales’ fate on these sorts of occasions.
Ramsey’s all-round brilliance, as much as his brace, will only add to Welsh expectations next summer. He has been absent for almost the entire qualifying campaign, when Wales have largely veered between decent and disappointing, but on his return he was simply a level above his team-mates and his Hungarian opponents.
Even the notoriously placid Ryan Giggs was getting carried away with it all as the Cardiff City Stadium shook in celebration of Ramsey’s second. The Wales manager has not had it all his own way during this campaign, as he has accepted. It is to his credit, though, that he has orchestrated their turnaround in qualifying. His side have been building momentum in recent games and this night of relief and exhilaration was without doubt the highest point in the career of Giggs the manager.
The inclusion of Ramsey from the off was the first moment of note for Wales. Ramsey had not been fit enough to start any of their previous qualifying matches in this campaign and his quality in an advanced midfield position was obvious within minutes. The decision to drop Harry Wilson, who had impressed in Azerbaijan this weekend, would not have been an easy one but even Wilson would accept that Ramsey’s quality speaks for itself on nights like this.
More than four years had passed since Wales last lost a qualifier in which Bale and Ramsey had started together, and it came as little surprise when they combined to give Giggs’ side a deserved lead after 14 minutes. Wales worked it right, Bale crossed into the six-yard box, Ramsey headed home and the Cardiff City Stadium almost exploded with the noise. For the players it prompted one of those wild-eyed, chaotic celebrations you only see in matches of genuine significance. Bale’s impulsive reaction was to turn towards the crowd, roaring and swinging his arms.
Hot heads were ruling the night at this point, with Bale soon launching into a snarling, sliding challenge down towards his own corner flag. He then picked out the giant Kieffer Moore at the back post, watching in anguish as the subsequent header bobbled wide.
Slowly, though, Hungary started to play their passes and work their angles. Marco Rossi’s side had lost four of their five previous matches, and are ranked well below Wales in Fifa’s standings, but they boast some technical players who are more than capable of making a one-goal lead feel perilous in the extreme.
Right on cue, Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was forced into his first significant action of the evening. It was sensational goalkeeping, in truth, with Hennessey throwing out an instinctive arm to deny Dominik Szoboszlai and then diving across to block Roland Sallai’s rebound.
If they had not known already, Wales knew then that a second goal would be crucial to calming the nerves in Cardiff. So up stepped Ramsey again, so keen to reiterate why he is such an important player for his country. It was Moore’s hooked volley which bounced into the Juventus midfielder’s path. There was one touch to control, another to shift and a third to finish.
Now it was Giggs who roared, throwing himself into the arms of his coaching staff. And still Wales pushed, with Bale, Daniel James and Ramsey going close to a third that would only have enhanced the sense that Wales are upwardly mobile again.
Wales (4-2-3-1): Hennessey 7 (Crystal Palace); Roberts 7 (Swansea), Lockyer 6 (Charlton), Mepham 6 (Bournemouth), Davies 7 (Tottenham Hotspur); Allen 7 (Stoke), Morrell 7 (Lincoln, Ampadu 50); Bale 8 (Real Madrid, for Wilson 88), Ramsey 9 (Juventus), James 7 (Manchester United); Moore 7 (Wigan)
Booked: Lockyer, James
Hungary: (4-2-3-1): Gulacsi 6 (RB Leipzig); Lovrencsics 5 (Ferencváros), Barath 5 (Sporting Kansas City), Lang 6 (Omonia), Z Nagy 6 (Puskas Akademia); Patkai 5 (Fehervar), A Nagy 6 (Bristol City, for Kovacs 60); Dzsudzsak 5 (Al-Ittihad, for Varga 72), Szoboszlai 6 (RB Salzburg), Sallai 5 (Freiburg, for Holender 83)); Szalai 6 (Mainz)
Booked: Patkai, Kovacs
Referee: Ovidiu Hategan (ROU)