The defining moment of an absorbing contest belonged to Aaron Ramsey, a sumptuous touch and finish from a tailor-made Gareth Bale pass, but there was no end of lasting images: the sight of that familiar chorus “Don’t Take Me Home”, the anthem of Wales’s tournament five years ago – emanating from a throng of supporters in a pocket of this stadium half an hour after the final whistle, Connor Roberts kissing the crest on his yellow shirt before knee-sliding towards the corner flag, mobbed by teammates, and Joe Morrell kissing the pitchside television camera amid the delirium.
Even Bale’s wild second-half penalty miss could not dampen the mood on another memorable night for Wales, who are dreaming of another adventure deep into the European Championship.
The post‑match team huddle on the pitch, in which Bale made light of his miss and told his teammates this is just the start of their journey, the vision of Ramsey hurtling towards the unused substitute (and his best friend) Chris Gunter after scoring, and the 20‑year‑old Ethan Ampadu urging the team to keep their heads with seconds to play: it all offered snapshots of the camp’s togetherness.
On the night the weight of a partisan crowd seemed to act as a burden for a pointless Turkey team who are surely heading out. Wales, in their yellow away kit, seemed to thrive despite the oppressive heat at kick-off. Either side of Burak Yilmaz spooning over from the edge of the six-yard box, Danny Ward made a fine save to deny Merih Demiral from a late Turkey corner and Ramsey bust a gut to make a vital interception as the substitute Mert Mulder, in space inside the box, sensed a sniff of goal but Wales were otherwise fairly comfortable. Joe Rodon put in a boisterous and business-like display in the centre of the Wales defence and Roberts was relentless from full-back.
Ramsey applied a glorious finish three minutes before the interval but Bale, inevitably, was the architect. For the third time in an oscillating first half, they combined but on this occasion it was to devastating effect. Bale dropped deep into a pocket of space close to halfway and spied Ramsey’s angled run and, while Okay Yokuslu pointed a finger at the No 10, a half-hearted attempt to alert his teammates, Ramsey roamed into the box unmarked. What happened next was a thing of beauty. Ramsey chested Bale’s telegraphed pass with his first touch and side-footed in with a killer second.
Azerbaijani locals turned out in force to support their closest ally and, during the Turkish national anthem, a banner that read “Tek millet iki devlet” – one nation, two states – bookended by flags of both Azerbaijan and Turkey was unfurled in a block of this giant, rubber‑ring‑like stadium.
Bale would have surged through on Ugurcan Cakir’s goal on 36 minutes but for a superb tackle by Caglar Soyuncu and for the three minutes that followed Ramsey’s effortless take and finish, only a couple of hundred ecstatic Wales supporters, spilled across a dozen or so rows of this stadium, could be heard.
The last time these countries met, in 1997 for a World Cup qualifier, the game ended with 10 goals scored and, at one point, a repeat did not seem so daft. Ramsey passed up two divine opportunities, with the midfielder forcing Cakir into a fine stop, the goalkeeper repelling his effort with his right foot, before later blazing over from an almost identical move to the one from which he later scored. Ramsey clasped both hands together as if to pray and it seemed to do the trick. He moved gracefully, causing havoc on the half-turn and soon enough he had something tangible to show for a purring display.
At half-time Senol Gunes, the Turkey manager who will face questions over his future, made a double substitution. He reintroduced Demiral, having dropped the Juventus defender in favour of Kaan Ayhan, whose first-half header was the catalyst for a swell of Turkey pressure. In the second half it was Ayhan’s flick, from the remnants of a corner that presented the captain Yilmaz with a glorious opening, which he somehow failed to capitalise on.
Then it was Bale’s turn. With an hour gone, Bale skipped towards the Turkey box and lured the right-back Zeki Celik into conceding a penalty, via a cheap foul on the perimeter of the area. The crowd of Wales supporters bobbed with joy and up stepped Bale to take the spot-kick. Bale stuttered once, and then again, but scooped underneath the ball with his left foot and sent his effort ballooning over. Not that it mattered, Roberts firing home in stoppage time to send the Wales support wild after Bale piled inside from a short corner.
The Wales coaching staff leapt from their seats and flooded the technical area, vaulting on to Robert Page, the interim manager. Suddenly, Wales’s final group game against Italy in Rome on Sunday does not feel quite so pivotal, the last 16 within touching distance. “You’d like to think so,” Bale said.