Inevitably, it was Kieffer Moore who came to the rescue for Wales. The striker, who used to juggle lifeguard duties with playing part-time for Truro City, has become an unlikely fans’ favourite since bursting on to the international stage and here he produced his most defining moment yet, steering a delightful header into the far corner to cancel out Breel Embolo’s opener. Wales, wobbling under pressure, feared they had pressed self-destruct when the Switzerland substitute Mario Gavranovic lashed in with his first touch six minutes from time but the goal was ruled offside by VAR.
“Don’t take me home,” came the familiar refrain from a bright-red pocket in the corner of this mammoth – and yet sparsely populated – tyre-like arena, and at full-time those supporters, sensing another adventure, serenaded their heroes by singing the national anthem. Wales could have snatched victory had Aaron Ramsey latched on to a teasing cross by the substitute David Brooks, but in truth they lived dangerously: Danny Ward made several smart saves to preserve a point that gives them hope of advancing from Group A before matches against Turkey and Italy next week.
Wales were on the ropes after they fell behind. Embolo was causing havoc and giving a wounded defence the runaround, teeing up the unmarked and overlapping Kevin Mbabu, who passed a shot harmlessly wide, before later curling wide himself. But spurred on by a few dozen hardy supporters who had made the 3,000-mile trip to Azerbaijan, Robert Page’s side refused to die. “We didn’t have the numbers that we would have liked but those that came were certainly heard,” Page said.
Ben Davies drove over from the edge of the box and then, on 74 minutes, came a clever short corner routine and a moment that Moore will treasure for ever. Joe Morrell dinked a first-time cross towards the penalty spot and Moore eluded Fabian Schär to glance in. When Wales reached the Euro 2016 semi-finals, Moore was still plugging away in non-league football with Forest Green Rovers.
Despite the clamour from Wales supporters for Moore to lead the line, Page’s decision to hand the towering striker his first competitive start since October – and his first since Page took the reins from Ryan Giggs – was something of a curveball. Page had persisted with playing a false 9 in recent friendlies but here Ramsey, who completed 90 minutes for the first time since January, dropped into his favoured No 10 role.
Moore went closest in a first half in which Switzerland dominated possession. Daniel James picked out the striker after 15 minutes and Moore intelligently peeled off his marker, Ricardo Rodríguez, to send a header looping towards the far corner but Yann Sommer flew to his right to palm over. James caused problems on the counterattack and the winger, having already breezed past two defenders on halfway, was the subject of a cynical body check by Schär just as Wales eyed a promising four v two scenario.
It was Schär’s shrewd flick from Xherdan Shaqiri’s corner that appeared to give Switzerland encouragement after the initial sparring. The Newcastle defender met Shaqiri’s low ball and turned it goalwards, forcing Ward into an instinctive stop as he spread his legs to save at his near post.
Switzerland threw no surprises and seemed to lull Wales into a false sense of security as they slowly tightened their grip. The authoritative Granit Xhaka captained the side, driving forward powerfully from midfield while the striker Haris Seferovic passed up a hat-trick of inviting first-half openings, the best of which came via Embolo. He cleverly occupied Chris Mepham inside the box before unselfishly playing in his strike partner, who could only blaze over.
Switzerland started the second half as they finished the first and when they scored four minutes after the interval, Wales could have no complaints. Embolo sped between Mepham and Joe Rodon with ease before firing a shot at goal which Ward pushed away for a corner. Embolo puffed his cheeks in frustration but there was a giant smile on his face seconds later when he beat Connor Roberts to head in the resulting corner. But despite the brilliant and bustling forward’s best efforts, such delight would not last.