Welsh woe is receding, not a moment too soon for their manager, Gary Speed.
Six matches into his reign Wales produced a performance that should restore optimism to disenchanted fans and serve as a warning to Fabio Capello, whose team will host Wales at Wembley on Tuesday and hope Speed's side will not retract the favour that they did England by beating Montenegro, the only other side with a realistic chance of topping Group G.
Wales went into this match without a competitive home win in three years and out of the running for a place at Euro 2012, bottom of the group with zero points. The national mood had sunk so far that only 8,194 people turned up at Cardiff City Stadium, the lowest ever for a competitive international match in the capital. Those diehards were rewarded with a display that had Speed claiming vindication. His tactical deployments worked, his team looked solid and fluent and Wales's major players, particularly Gareth Bale, turned in their best displays for a long time. Confidence coursed through the team.
"Over the first six months we tried to put things in place and develop a passing style because I think that's our best chance of getting success," explained Speed, who previously had lost four of his five matches in charge. "Sometimes we had to sacrifice results but it was a process we've had to come through and against Montenegro what we've drilled into the players has come to fruition. Our passing was excellent."
Wales made an uncertain start to the game and the visitors looked slicker in the opening exchanges but the defensive vigilance of the Welsh restricted them to long-range shots. Wales found their groove when Aaron Ramsey dropped from an advanced midfield role into a slightly deeper position to orchestrate play. The Arsenal player was the fulcrum of the flowing move that lead to the opening goal in the 31st minute. That moved culminated with David Vaughan delivering a cross that the goalkeeper, Mladen Bozovic, fumbled, leaving Steve Morison, who had been chosen ahead of Robert Earnshaw, to tap in his fourth goal in nine caps.
Two minutes later Bale gave a clue as to why Speed had chosen to deploy him down the right wing rather than the left by cutting inside and unleashing a fearsome 25-yard drive. Bozovic tipped it over with difficulty.
Wales were fortunate not to concede an equaliser moments later, when Radomir Dalovic dragged wide from eight yards. In general, however, Wales were well on top and their buoyancy continued in the second period as they continued to pass and move with aplomb, exemplified by their second goal in the 50th minute.
After neat exchanges the impressive Vaughan clipped the ball wide to Bale on the right and the Tottenham player slipped it through to Ramsey, who surged from deep to sweep the ball into the net. Four minutes later Bellamy gave Bale a chance to top off a fine performance with a goal, but Bozovic saved his eight-yard header.
Montenegro had conceded only one goal in four qualifiers prior to this but injuries had forced them into a raft of defensive changes for the trip to Cardiff and Bale and Craig Bellamy, in particular, gave them a runaround.
Going forward, however, Montenegro did have quality and Stevan Jovetic, the gifted Fiorentina attacker who returned to action after a year out through injury, demonstrated that with a splendid goal in the 71st minute. After receiving the ball at the edge of the area Jovetic cut inside Chris Gunther and fired a ferocious shot past Wayne Hennessey. Nerves could have started jangling for Wales but they showed commendable composure to see out the win, even if Hennessey was required to make a couple of fine saves late on.
"One of the things we wanted to do was get our big players more into the game by getting them the ball earlier on and we did that really well," said Speed of the performances of Bale, Ramsey and Bellamy.
The clouds over a bright display were yellow cards to Bellamy and Vaughan, who will thus miss the match against England. "Craig's wasn't even a foul so to rob him of playing in such a great occasion is very harsh," said Speed, who says his team could could upset England. "It's going to be difficult. There has not been a better team in qualifiers than England in recent years but we've got to think about causing them as many problems as we can." They will still have Bale, who, in the opinion of Montenegrin manager, Zlatko Kranjcar, "could make a major contribution to any team in the world".
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