By Phil Blanche, PA
Wales took a huge step towards the knockout stage of Euro 2020 by beating Turkey 2-0 in Baku.
Aaron Ramsey struck close to half-time – his 17th international goal – and Connor Roberts sewed up victory in the final seconds after Gareth Bale had missed a penalty.
The win takes Wales onto four points and leaves them in a healthy position heading into their final Group A fixture against Italy in Rome on Sunday.
No side failed to make the last 16 at Euro 2016 in France five years ago having accumulated four points.
— Wales 🏴 (@Cymru) June 16, 2021
A few hundred Wales fans were vastly outnumbered in the 69,870-capacity Olympic Stadium, which was about half full. The close ties between Azerbaijan and Turkey meant the local population were firmly behind the Crescent-Stars.
The two countries had not met since 1997 when Turkey won a crazy 10-goal World Cup qualifier 6-4.
Robert Page was part of the Wales defence in Istanbul that night and the interim manager had issues to address after the 1-1 draw against Switzerland, where his side were short on both possession and penetration.
But Page sent out the same side with Wales looking for key men Bale and Ramsey to have a far bigger impact than they did on Saturday.
Kieffer Moore had rescued Wales against Switzerland with his sixth international goal and high on the Wales game plan no doubt was to provide the 6ft 5in striker with better service.
Skipper Bale’s contribution had also come under scrutiny with Wales’ record scorer and talisman having gone 12 games without finding the net – a run stretching back to October 2019.
Bale started to the left of Moore with Daniel James on the right of a three-man attack, although the pair soon switched flanks to leave Wales with a more familiar appearance.
Turkey had also been exercised in a period of self-reflection following their opening 3-0 defeat to Italy, a humbling lesson in which they managed only three off-target attempts.
Senol Gunes’ squad – the youngest at Euro 2020 – were tipped by many as dark horses to win the competition after some impressive pre-tournament results.
But the pressure was as much on Turkey as Wales in the Baku heat, despite the 8pm kick-off, especially with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan among the dignitaries present.
Wales were almost ahead inside six minutes when Bale and Ramsey combined in what was to become a running theme of the first half.
Ramsey cut inside Caglar Soyuncu but his near-post shot was saved by the outstretched foot of goalkeeper Ugurcan Cakir.
Burak Yilmaz saw an effort deflected wide, but it was Wales who were constantly probing and loud appeals for a penalty when the ball struck Soyuncu’s elbow were waved away by Portuguese referee Artur Dias.
Ramsey fired over midway through the half from Bale’s defence-splitting pass.
But Turkey did not heed the warning and were punished three minutes before the break.
Bale dropped deep again to find Ramsey and the Juventus man timed his run to perfection to beat Cakir with comfort.
Turkey upped the tempo after the break and Hakan Calhanoglu forced a first save from Danny Ward before Yilmaz volleyed over from inside the six-yard box.
Ramsey was denied doubling Wales’ lead by Cakir’s good glovework before a golden opportunity presented itself on the hour mark.
Bale was tripped by Zeki Celik just inside the area but the Real Madrid forward sent his spot-kick high over the crossbar.
Turkey pressed furiously in the closing stages and Ward denied Merih Demiral with a superb close-range save.
Bale made up for his penalty miss in stoppage time, cutting the ball back for Roberts to sweep home and surely send Wales into the last 16.