Right, that’s all from me. Here’s Stuart James’s report from the Cardiff City Stadium, Bye!
It was anything but convincing and there were plenty of anxious moments for Wales to endure on an afternoon when Slovakia will wonder how on earth they failed to score, but all that matters for Ryan Giggs and his players right now is that their qualification campaign is up and running with a victory. Daniel James, the Swansea City winger, provided the game’s defining moment when he marked his first competitive start for Wales with an early goal.
Ultimately, though, Wales were hugely indebted to Wayne Hennessey for making several excellent second-half saves, with the pick of them being the reflex stop that kept out a header from Michal Duris, the Slovakia substitute. When David Hancko missed his kick from six yards out seconds later it rather summed up Slovakia’s day.
Much more here:
Ryan Giggs is happy:
I am proud. It’s not easy. I tried to play it down beforehand, when the other teams played first and got points on the bard, but you do feel the pressure. I am proud. So many outstanding performances and at the end just digging in and getting that clean sheet.
First half we showed real good composure. Second half we rode our luck a little bit, dug in, but first half we could have scored a couple more goals with better decision-making in the final third. I wanted clean sheets and that’s what I got. With the talent we’ve got in the squad, we’re always going to create chances.
Here’s what 19-year-old Matt Smith has to say about the game:
They’re a fantastic team with some very good individuals. We knew it was going to be a tough one and we said an early goal would help us, and we did that. On paper we’re quite inexperienced but we know what we can do together. It’s a great mix of ages
Dan James, the match-winner, has a quick chat:
Yeah, it was obviously, got off to a good start by getting that goal and from then on we had to dig in, and we did that. Once I won it off him the only thing I had in my head was to shoot, and luckily it went in. Second half they had a lot of the ball and we did well.
Gareth Bale has one too:
Everyone put in a shift today. It’s what we’re used to now. I think mainly what our success has been off is a good solid defence. The whole team works together as a unit and we know we’re going to nick a goal. That’s all we need. Second half we came under a lot of pressure, but when we shut shop we know how to do it.
Juraj Kucka was booked after the final whistle, for being so annoyed about it.
Final score: Wales 1-0 Slovakia
90+6 mins: Stoch’s shot from 25 yards deflects wide. As it goes out of play the clock reads 95 minutes and one second. The referee blows his whistle, but instead of pointing to the corner he’s signalling for full time! Slovakian players surround him, but the game is very much over!
90+5 mins: Slovakia keep knocking at the door, but Wales aren’t caving in. Hennessey comes out well to claim a cross from the left.
90+3 mins: Stoch is booked for getting overly angry with the referee for not giving a free kick when he was fairly challenged by Allen.
90+2 mins: Bale goes over in the area but the referee waves play on, and Davies runs onto the loose ball on the edge of the area. His shot surely deflected wide off a defender - you can’t generate that madcap spin by yourself - but the referee gives a goal kick!
90+1 mins: Into stoppage time, and there will be five minutes of it!
90 mins: A final change: Pekarik, the right-back, is off, and Safranko, a striker, is on.
89 mins: Bale just controlled a Hennessey clearance, dropping over his right shoulder, just beautifully well. That’s phenomenal technique, that is.
89 mins: An aimless cross from the right is poorly dealt with by Wales. Allen’s clearance is pretty dismal, drops straight to Kucka, and he shoots wide.
87 mins: Wales bring Wilson off, and replace him with Rotherham’s Will Vaulks.
86 mins: Roberts cleverly sucks Hamsik into a foul on the halfway line. The Slovakian captain is booked, and Wales have a breather.
84 mins: Hamsik crosses from the left and Pekarik arrives, beyond the far post, to head into the side netting. Ever since I accused Wales of looking comfortable they have been reeling!
83 min: Rusnak crossed from the right, Duris’s header at the near post was brilliantly saved by Hennessey but the rebound rolled to Hancko, who had the whole goal to aim at but swung a boot and entirely missed the ball!
82 mins: So much for comfort: Slovakia were a great save and a ludicrous miss away from an equaliser there!
80 mins: Wales rode out a testy spell early in this half, and have looked comfortable again of late. The crowd enjoys a lusty rendition of the national anthem.
76 mins: Wales win a free kick 45 yards out and Bale lines up a shot. The crowd hums with anticipation. He tucks a lock of hair behind his ear. And then he runs up and scuffs his shot, which rolls harmlessly wide.
75 mins: Hancko is censured for a foul throw on Slovakia’s left. Which is always fun.
74 mins: A cross from Bale on the left bounces through to Wilson, whose shot is well saved by Dubravka!
72 mins: A standing ovation for Dan James as he goes off, and Ashley Williams comes on. Not exactly like-for-like that.
71 mins: Smith miserably crumples after the faintest possible touch from Pekarik, right in front of the linesman, and wins a free kick. I find that extremely aggravating.
69 mins: Tyler Roberts scoops a shot way high and extremely wide from the edge of the area, after which Duris is booked for an earlier foul on Roberts, and Slovakia bring Stoch on for Mak.
67 mins: So still just the one goal, but there have been chances for both sides in this half. Mak cuts into the box from the left but his shot from just inside the area is straight at Hennessey.
65 mins: Slovakia make their first substitution, taking off Duda and bringing on Duris.
61 mins: Lovely work by James on the left, who sprints past Pekarik, cuts inside, roars into the area and slides a pass across to the unmarked Wilson, whose first-time effort is tame, and also very much wide.
59 mins: Wales make their first substitution, bringing Tyler Roberts on for Brooks. The Bournemouth winger’s last involvement in the game is to accept a booking.
57 mins: Another chance for Slovakia: Hamsik passes to the feet of Mak, a foot inside the area, and he spins and shoots. It’s a straightforward save for Hennessey, though.
54 mins: Slovakia nearly score! Rusnak’s smart run into the area is picked out by an equally smart through-ball, Hennessey comes out quickly and the shot hits him on the head, rebounds into Rusnak and bounces just wide of the near post!
53 mins: Joe Allen stops Slovakia taking a quick free-kick on the half-way line, and is booked.
52 mins: A good, long spell of possession by Wales but at no point is the ball within 40 yards of the Slovakian goal and eventually they give it away, and Brooks fouls Hamsik to prevent a counter-attack.
47 mins: Smith slide in to challenge Kucka on Wales’s left touchline, and Rusnak lets the ball roll straight past him, happy with the throw-in surely coming his way. But the ball spins straight down the line and back into play without ever crossing it, Wales take possession and Rusnak looks a little silly.
46 mins: Peeeeeep! The visitors get the second half under way.
The players are back out, and the ball is ready to roll.
Half time: Wales 1-0 Slovakia
45+2 mins: And that is the end of the half. Wales have looked good, and if they haven’t really created anything it’s OK because they’ve scored anyway.
45+1 mins: There’ll only be a minute or so of stoppage time.
45 mins: Wales win a corner, Dubravka comes out to claim it but fails to get even vaguely near it, and Bale flicks a header wide of an empty goal.
43 mins: A lovely Welsh move ends with James’s cross being uncomfortably cleared before Brooks could turn it in.
41 mins: Another Slovakian goes into the book, Lobotka punished for taking out Wilson.
40 mins: Phwoar! Brooks ghosts past Mak with a lovely bit of skill on the right, before curling a shot beyond the far post with his left foot.
39 mins: James’s cross is headed down by a defender and straight to Wilson, who is astonished to find the ball at his feet and can’t react in time.
38 mins: The game has slowed significantly in the last few minutes. This probably isn’t a surprise, with Wales having run a lot in the opening half-hour. Slovakia are hogging possession at present, but are getting nowhere near the Welsh goal.
35 mins: He indeed doesn’t shoot, and Bale heads his cross away.
34 mins: Now James brings down Kucka and Slovakia have a free kick. Hamsik stands over it, but surely won’t shoot from here ...
31 mins: The referee has his yellow card out again, Vavro having taken out James after the flying Welshman had been released by Bale.
28 mins: Slovakia have come back into the game over the last few minutes, winning a corner and working a chance for Hamsik that was spoiled only by the fact that he fell over at the vital moment.
27 mins: It’s not exactly a chance-heavy match so far. Even the goal wasn’t so much created as stolen.
25 mins: Slovakia make a rare foray forward, but Smith gets back to clear.
21 mins: Davies crosses low from the left and Brooks spears the ball wide at the near post.
21 mins: Kucka steamrollers Wilson in midfield. Wales have been outstanding since the goal.
19 mins: Bale motors down the left, and his low cross pinged off a couple of bodies and could have gone anywhere. It went, in the end, to a Slovakian.
16 mins: A lovely delivery from Wilson, curling towards the far post. Dubravka would probably have caught it, but Vavro isn’t taking any chances and he heads it behind.
15 mins: Mak is booked for taking out Roberts, just to the right of the penalty area.
14 mins: James jinks down the left, but instead of passing to a team-mate in space on the outside he tries to pass inside and hits Lobotka.
11 mins: I’ve only seen Dan James play for Swansea once but he seems extremely exciting, full of pace and daring and ability. With Brooks in the team as well Wales look extremely promising, though they could do with a similarly exciting centre-forward emerging from somewhere.
9 mins: Bale’s first involvement in the game sees him run down the right, pop the ball into Vavro’s arm and win a free kick for his troubles.
7 mins: Brooks runs infield from the right but his pass forward is rubbish, and he flings out his arms in frustration as it rolls straight to Pekarik. James doesn’t give up on it, though: Pekarik takes a touch, James appears from nowhere, nicks it off his toe and thumps it into the back of the net from the edge of the area before anyone has time to react!
GOAL! Wales 1-0 Slovakia (James, 5 mins)
Wales score from their first attack, and it’s Swansea’s Daniel James who scores it!
3 mins: The first shot of the game comes from the right foot of Vavro. Sadly Vavro is a centre-back, and he’s 20 yards out and in a bit of a hurry, and the ball goes well over the bar.
2 mins: A bright start for the Slovaks, and Joe Allen heads a right-wing cross behind for a corner.
1 min: Wales get the game started!
Anthems sung, hands clasped, we should have action very imminently.
Bale and Hamsik leads the teams out, and it’s man-bun v top-spike. No contest, this one: Hamsik’s barnet is, as ever, a thing of absolute wonder.
And now they’re out!
The teams are in the tunnel!
Jamie Lawrence, who is 26 but has only two caps, and 19-year-old Matt Smith are the two more surprising names in Ryan Giggs’ team. Lawrence might have some inside knowledge on their opponents, having spent two seasons in Slovakia with Trencin, where he won the domestic double twice in 2015 and 2016. There’s an interview with him where he discusses those years on the Sky Sports website (here), and here’s an interview from 2015, when he was very much Slovakia-based:
Here are the teams in full:
Wales: Hennessey, Connor Roberts, Mepham, Jamie Lawrence, Ben Davies, Allen, Smith, Wilson, Brooks, James, Bale. Subs: Ward, Gunter, Dummett, Williams, Tyler Roberts, John, Matondo, Vaulks, Hedges, Woodburn, Thomas, Adam Davies.
Slovakia: Dubravka, Pekarik, Vavro, Skriniar, Hancko, Kucka, Lobotka, Hamsik, Rusnak, Duda, Mak. Subs: Kozacik, Stetina, Satka, Gregus, Mihalik, Stoch, Bero, Hrosovsky, Chrien, Safranko, Duris, Rodak.
Referee: Felix Zwayer.
Here’s the Wales team: Hennessey, Davies, Mepham, Lawrence, Roberts, Allen, Smith, James, Brooks, Wilson, Bale.
And here’s what Ryan Giggs says about it:
There’s a lot of quality on the pitch. With a couple of players missing out we do lack that bit of experience but the only way to get experience is playing. I believe in the players I’ve picked and the lads on the bench too. We’ve got a plan, we have to stick with it, and I’ve got trust in the players. I don’t think it’s must-win, but it would be good to get off to a good start. If you don’t it’s not the end of the world because there’s still time to make up.
Weather latest: It is a gorgeous sunny spring day in Wales, and much of the UK.
The task facing Wales in Group E seems clear: beat Azerbaijan and Hungary home and away, do no worse against Croatia than Slovakia do, and then it’s a straight head-to-head with the Slovakians for one of the top two places. But while the other two teams in the group who, like Wales, are in the top 30 of Fifa’s rankings got their campaigns off to relatively low-key starts on Thursday at home to the two lowest-ranked teams, Wales start with a six-pointer. If they are to follow this path to the finals it is absolutely crucial that they do not slip up here.
Inconveniently, they are without Aaron Ramsey, as well as Ethan Ampadu, Tom Lawrence and Sam Vokes. But David Brooks is available, as well as Gareth Bale. “Wales are a very good team, they are playing at home,” says the Slovakia manager, Pavel Hapal. “They are very aggressive and run a lot.”
This, is strikes me, is an unusual observation. You might think a team doesn’t run very much, but surely running a lot is a given. I admit that there are occasional exceptions - the 2002 South Korea side, for example, ran a lot - but I’m not totally convinced that Wales are one of those. Can we therefore deduce that Slovakia don’t run very much? I suppose we shall soon find out.