Wales held on for victory against Slovakia in Cardiff to make a winning start to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

The hosts flew out of the blocks with attacking intent and led inside five minutes as Daniel James struck his first international goal with a bullet of a shot from 20 yards.

Wales had chances to extend their lead but risked squandering it against a resurgent Slovakia, for whom Albert Rusnak and Robert Mak both had shots saved by Wayne Hennessey.

The Wales goalkeeper then made a crucial intervention with eight minutes left as he palmed away Michal Duris’s close-range header, before David Hancko missed the rebound as the visitors pressed for an equaliser.

Ryan Giggs’ side, the second seeds in Group E, lived dangerously in the closing stages but they defended resolutely to cling on for what could prove to be a crucial win against Slovakia, the group’s third seeds and potentially their closest rivals for one of the two automatic qualifying places.

Slovakia and Croatia, the top seeds, had already started their campaigns with victories over Hungary and Azerbaijan respectively, so Wales move level with them on three points, with World Cup runners-up Croatia away at Hungary later on Sunday.

Wales’ dream start

This was a significant result for Wales, who are aiming to rekindle the magic of Euro 2016 and that epic run to the semi-finals after a 58-year absence from major tournaments.

Giggs had described his mixed first year in charge as a “free hit”, an opportunity to experiment, knowing he would be judged on this qualifying campaign.

Under his guidance, Wales have evolved in an attacking sense – with their new manager placing a strong emphasis on youth and pace – but that has occasionally been at the expense of defensive stability.

In some ways, this match was a snapshot of Giggs’ tenure so far, as Wales poured forward with wild abandon, albeit at times leaving themselves exposed at the back.

Giggs stuck to his guns with another bold team selection, dropping captain Ashley Williams in favour of Anderlecht’s James Lawrence and handing a first competitive start to Swansea City’s rapid winger and rising star James.

The 21-year-old set the tone for a purposeful Welsh start as he, David Brooks, Harry Wilson and stand-in skipper Gareth Bale switched positions to create a fluid frontline which tormented the Slovakian defence with speed and direct running.

Three were involved in the opening goal as Wilson deftly flicked the ball to Brooks, who drove towards the Slovakian backline and, although he lost possession, Peter Pekarik dithered on the ball and had his pocket picked by James, who smashed it past Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka from the edge of the area.

Wales attacked their opponents at will, with Brooks twice firing wide – but it was far from one-way traffic, as Slovakia enjoyed long spells of possession and worked their way into promising positions as the first half wore on.

Wales’ record of starting strongly continues – the best stats

  • Wales have now won their opening match in their past three major tournament qualifying competitions.
  • Slovakia are winless in their past seven away games in all competitions (D1 L6) since a 2-1 win in Lithuania in June 2017.
  • Wales have won consecutive matches in all competitions for the first time since a run of three in October 2017 under Chris Coleman.
  • Daniel James scored just five minutes into his competitive debut for Wales, with the Dragons’ earliest goal in a competitive fixture since March 2007 (Ryan Giggs vs San Marino, three minutes).
  • Gareth Bale had six shots in this game – his most without finding the net in a home match for Wales since October 2014 (10 vs Cyprus).
  • Ashley Williams made his 85th appearance for Wales – only Chris Gunter (94) and Neville Southall (92) have played more games for the Dragons.

More to follow.

Line-ups

Wales

  • 1Hennessey
  • 14Roberts
  • 5Mepham
  • 15Lawrence
  • 4Davies
  • 16WilsonSubstituted forVaulksat 87′minutes
  • 7AllenBooked at 53mins
  • 8Smith
  • 20JamesSubstituted forWilliamsat 73′minutes
  • 10BrooksBooked at 60minsSubstituted forRobertsat 60′minutes
  • 11Bale

Substitutes

  • 2Gunter
  • 3Dummett
  • 6Williams
  • 9Roberts
  • 12Ward
  • 13John
  • 17Matondo
  • 18Vaulks
  • 19Hedges
  • 21Davies
  • 22Woodburn
  • 23Thomas

Slovakia

  • 23Dubravka
  • 2PekaríkSubstituted forSafrankoat 90′minutes
  • 3VavroBooked at 31mins
  • 14Skriniar
  • 16Hancko
  • 19KuckaBooked at 90mins
  • 22LobotkaBooked at 41mins
  • 17HamsikBooked at 86mins
  • 10Rusnák
  • 8DudaSubstituted forDurisat 65′minutesBooked at 69mins
  • 20MakBooked at 15minsSubstituted forStochat 69′minutesBooked at 90mins

Substitutes

  • 1Kozácik
  • 4Stetina
  • 5Satka
  • 6Gregus
  • 7Mihálik
  • 9Stoch
  • 11Bero
  • 12Rodák
  • 13Hrosovsky
  • 15Chrien
  • 18Safranko
  • 21Duris
Referee:
Felix Zwayer

Match Stats

Home TeamWalesAway TeamSlovakia
Possession
Home42%
Away58%
Shots
Home14
Away13
Shots on Target
Home4
Away4
Corners
Home4
Away3
Fouls
Home10
Away18

Live Text

Match ends, Wales 1, Slovakia 0.

Booking

Juraj Kucka (Slovakia) is shown the yellow card.

Full Time

Second Half ends, Wales 1, Slovakia 0.

Corner, Slovakia. Conceded by Chris Mepham.

Attempt blocked. Miroslav Stoch (Slovakia) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Juraj Kucka.

Booking

Miroslav Stoch (Slovakia) is shown the yellow card.

Hand ball by Michal Duris (Slovakia).

Attempt blocked. Ben Davies (Wales) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.

Substitution

Substitution, Slovakia. Pavol Safranko replaces Peter Pekarík.

Attempt blocked. Will Vaulks (Wales) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.

Attempt blocked. Gareth Bale (Wales) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Wayne Hennessey.

Attempt missed. Juraj Kucka (Slovakia) left footed shot from the centre of the box is high and wide to the left.

Substitution

Substitution, Wales. Will Vaulks replaces Harry Wilson.

Booking

Marek Hamsik (Slovakia) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Foul by Marek Hamsik (Slovakia).

Tyler Roberts (Wales) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Attempt missed. Peter Pekarík (Slovakia) header from the right side of the six yard box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Marek Hamsik with a cross.

Delay over. They are ready to continue.

Delay in match David Hancko (Slovakia) because of an injury.

Attempt missed. Juraj Kucka (Slovakia) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Peter Pekarík with a cross.

Attempt saved. Michal Duris (Slovakia) header from the centre of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Albert Rusnák with a cross.

Delay over. They are ready to continue.

Delay in match Harry Wilson (Wales) because of an injury.

Attempt missed. Albert Rusnák (Slovakia) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Marek Hamsik.

Juraj Kucka (Slovakia) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Foul by Matthew Smith (Wales).

Attempt missed. Gareth Bale (Wales) left footed shot from outside the box misses to the right from a direct free kick.

Foul by Stanislav Lobotka (Slovakia).

Gareth Bale (Wales) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Dangerous play by Albert Rusnák (Slovakia).

Matthew Smith (Wales) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Offside, Wales. Harry Wilson tries a through ball, but Tyler Roberts is caught offside.

Attempt saved. Harry Wilson (Wales) left footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the top right corner. Assisted by Gareth Bale with a cross.

Substitution

Substitution, Wales. Ashley Williams replaces Daniel James.

Foul by David Hancko (Slovakia).

Tyler Roberts (Wales) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Foul by Peter Pekarík (Slovakia).

Matthew Smith (Wales) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Substitution

Substitution, Slovakia. Miroslav Stoch replaces Robert Mak.

Booking

Michal Duris (Slovakia) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

goal

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