EURO 2016

Bale, Robson-Kanu give Wales 2-1 win over Slovakia

FBL-EURO-2016-MATCH3-WAL-SVK Slovakia's defender Martin Skrtel (L) vies for the ball with Wales' forward Hal Robson-Kanu | AFP

Gareth Bale got Wales' Euro 2016 campaign off to a dream start with an early goal and substitute Hal Robson-Kanu struck a late winner to beat Slovakia 2-1 in the opening Group B match on Saturday.

Robson-Kanu fired home from inside the area in the 81st minute following a neat pass by Aaron Ramsey to secure the three points after Bale had put the Welsh in front early on with a free kick that deceived Slovakia keeper Matus Kozacik.

Slovakia, who should have scored after five minutes when Marek Hamsik dribbled past three players only to see his goal bound shot cleared off the line by Ben Davies, equalised through substitute Ondrej Duda with his first touch on the hour.

But Robson-Kanu popped up to give Wales a deserved victory in their first major international tournament for 58 years after an inspired substitution by manager Chris Coleman.

"When Slovakia got the equaliser, they were looking strong - they're a good team, physical and play good football," said Coleman. "Our boys showed passion and courage to come back. It was incredible attitude and mentality.

"Wales talisman Bale added: "For Hal to get the winner is amazing. When the subs come on they have to make an impact and he was amazing when he came on."

Asked where his early strike ranked in his career, Bale said: "The goal is right up there. A memorable moment, a historic moment for our country and the most important thing is we got the three points."

Genuine Class

Unable to trust three low-scoring strikers to fill the main role from the start, Coleman used his one genuine class player, Bale, to lead the attack where he has sometimes become isolated.

A 20th goal for his country, the first of which came against Slovakia as a 17 year-old in 2006, emphasised once again the Real Madrid forward's importance to the Welsh cause.

But Robson-Kanu also did what was asked of him after replacing surprise selection Jonny Williams.

Wales lost first-choice goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey when he suffered back spasms in the warm-up and had to use Danny Ward, who had made only two previous appearances as a substitute.

Slovakia, unbeaten in a recent run that included winning away to world champions Germany, improved either side of the interval and rallied again in an exciting finish during which another substitute, Adam Nemec, hit the post with a header.

Wales made the most of their reprieve from Hamsik's run and shot when twice Champions League winner Bale was given his first sight of goal and caught Kozacik on the wrong foot.

The Welsh supporters who made up the majority of the crowd were understandably furious when Jonny Williams was denied a penalty after Slovakia captain Martin Skrtel barged him over.

But Slovakia, playing at their first major tournament as an independent nation, began to improve and Duda equalised within a minute of coming off the bench. Robert Mak beat two men to provide a low cross driven in from close to the penalty spot.A Welsh substitution proved even more crucial, though.

Robson-Kanu, without a club since his contract with English Championship (second tier) side Reading expired at the end of the season, collected Ramsey's pass and shinned the ball through a defender's legs to the delight of the Wales supporters.

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Topics : #Euro Cup 2016

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