CARDIFF, United Kingdom (AFP) – Wales survived Andy King’s red card to clinch a 2-1 win over Cyprus on Monday that kept them top of Group B in the race to qualify for Euro 2016.
Chris Coleman’s side looked on course for a comfortable victory when they surged into a two-goal lead midway through the first half thanks to strikes from David Cotterill and Hal Robson-Kanu at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Vincent Laban reduced the deficit for the visitors and Wales were forced to play virtually the entire second half with 10 men after Leicester midfielder King’s dismissal for a crude foul.
But, inspired by the counter-attacks of Real Madrid star Gareth Bale and some obdurate defending from the Welsh back-four, Coleman’s unbeaten team held on for their second win in their opening three group matches.
Wales are one point ahead of second placed Israel and three in front of group favourites Belgium, who have a game in hand. “When I saw the red card I thought it had killed us,” Coleman told Sky Sports.
“We never had determination in the last campaign, we were too soft. We are a different group of people this time, the players have really matured.
“We have the most expensive player in the world (Bale) tracking back and making sliding tackles.
“We have incredible togetherness and without that we wouldn’t have won the game.”
Coleman was missing 11 players through injury following Friday’s goalless draw against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
But his bad luck wasn’t over yet as Wales striker Simon Church was forced off with a dislocated shoulder less than 60 seconds into the match.
Despite that blow, Wales were dominant in the early stages and deservedly took the lead in the 13th minute.
Cotterill, on for Church, initially saw his corner headed clear, but when the ball was worked back out to the Birmingham winger on the left flank, he curled a teasing cross back into the penalty area which eluded everyone and flashed into the far corner of the net.
Wales pressed hard for a second goal which duly arrived in the 23rd minute.
Bale played a brilliant back-heeled pass in the centre circle that sent Robson-Kanu clear on goal and the Reading striker kept his nerve to slot a cool finish under Cyprus goalkeeper Tasos Kissas.
Yet just as Wales looked comfortable, Crystal Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey gifted Cyprus a lifeline in the 36th minute.
There should have been no danger when Hennessey came for Laban’s cross but he missed his attempt to punch clear, allowing the ball to divert off his glove and into the unguarded net.
Coleman’s team almost restored their two-goal advantage when Bale’s deflected free-kick was pushed onto the crossbar by Kissas, with Joe Ledley’s header from the rebounded nodded off the line by Giorgos Merkis.