Wales started their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign on the right foot, easily beating Moldova 4-0 on Monday.
Moldova frustrated Wales throughout the first half, but late goals by Sam Vokes and Joe Allen gave the hosts a two-goal advantage heading into half-time.
Gareth Bale added to the lead early in the second half, and Wales were never troubled again. The Real Madrid man converted a penalty kick in injury time to put the final score on the board.
As Wales' official Twitter account shared, Hal Robson-Kanu started on the bench, while Bale led the attack:
There's less than 45 minutes until kick off. Here's a reminder of the Wales line-up #WALMOL #TogetherStronger https://t.co/5y5Nt9f3L12016-9-5 18:01:45
Per Squawka Football, Moldova's recent history suggested Wales were in for a routine encounter:
Squawka Football @Squawka
Moldova have not won a competitive international fixture for 1056 days. Over to you, Bale & co. https://t.co/VksDZKwUi72016-9-5 18:36:13
The visitors started the match well, however, displaying attacking intentions early and pressing high up the pitch. Alexandru Dedov picked out Andrei Cojocari with a fine cross, but the full-back fluffed his shot.
Chris Gunter and Dedov clashed inside the box after seven minutes, with the Welshman calling for a penalty, but the official decided the contact between the two was too light to warrant a foul.
My Racing Tips thought the hosts had a strong case:
My Racing Tips @myracingtips
Big shout for a Wales penalty after a clumsy looking challenge in the box! Penalty or not? #WALMOL2016-9-5 18:53:42
Allen pulled down Dedov after a poor header, handing Moldova a free-kick from a promising position, but Ben Davies closed down Cojocari in a hurry.
Dedov ran into the first booking of the night for dissent, but Bale powered the resulting free-kick wide of the target. Joe Ledley then put goalkeeper Ilie Cebanu to work for the first time with a tame shot from the edge of the box.
With little going on in the opening stages, fans and pundits alike turned their attention to Wales' official team photo, which was published shortly after kick-off.
As the Daily Mail's James Dutton shared, it did not go as planned:
James Dutton @jrgdutton
Wales still can't line up for a pre-match team photo https://t.co/5UschIoGvy2016-9-5 18:55:22
Ledley threatened with a few darting runs, and Cebanu had to intervene to deny Vokes a clear path to the ball. However, Moldova were barely troubled in the first 20 minutes.
The clash between Vokes and Cebanu did leave the latter with a nasty-looking gash, and play was halted so the goalkeeper could get some treatment.
Bale failed to make much of an early impact, but he improved as the half wore on and started weighing on the Moldovan defence. Another free-kick left Cebanu stranded and was begging to be deviated into the goal. But none of Wales' attackers timed their runs right, and the ball floated past the far post.
Moldova's early momentum didn't last, and Wales dominated possession toward the end of the half without generating many chances. The lack of creativity was an issue, as the visitors never had to break out of their defensive shell to deal with the hosts.
Alex Richards of the Daily Mirror thought Moldova's tactics played into Wales' main weaknesses:
Alex Richards @AA_Richards
Interesting test for Wales. Moldova very physical, no intent to do anything but spoil. Wales better on the counter than forcing the play.2016-9-5 19:21:06
The hosts finally found the breakthrough after 38 minutes, when Bale fired a perfect cross into the box that Vokes easily converted.
Per Chris Bascombe of the Daily Telegraph, it meant Moldova would have to change their tactics drastically:
Chris Bascombe @_ChrisBascombe
Wales ahead. Moldova forced to reset Sat-nav towards Wayne Hennessey’s goal… possibly. Not sure they have that ambition.2016-9-5 19:26:16
The visitors didn't break their defensive shell, however, and Bale almost doubled Wales' lead, firing a superb strike from 30 yards out that Cebanu dealt with well.
Wales were unleashed at this point, and a second goal before half-time seemed inevitable. Cebanu missed the ball when trying to defend a corner, allowing Allen to double Wales' lead and all but end the contest.
The hosts were happy to start the second half at a slightly slower pace, but with their first chance of the second half, Wales added to their lead. Ion Jardan played a dreadful pass into Bale's feet, and the Real Madrid man gladly took the gift before finishing with a delightful lob:
Bleacher Report UK @br_uk
Gareth Bale scoring goals for Wales. It’s not unusual. https://t.co/ST6fy6238G2016-9-5 19:56:10
Moldova were unable to deal with Wales' passing game, and the hosts were happy to keep the ball for a while—killing the clock. Vokes went down after suffering an apparent head injury an hour into the match, and manager Chris Coleman responded by ordering Robson-Kanu to warm up.
Ashley Williams preserved the clean sheet with a superb defensive play on Radu Ginsari, making a last-ditch tackle before the winger could prod the ball home from close range. On the other side of the pitch, Emyr Huws almost picked out Vokes with a fine cross.
Robson-Kanu was given 15 minutes, and the UEFA Euro 2016 hero almost got to a lofted cross. James Collins made a late block to preserve the clean sheet before Bale earned a penalty in injury time and converted the chance.
Per Adam Jones of WalesOnline, Coleman talked about the importance of starting the qualification campaign with a win after the match:
It was so important that we got off to a good start in this campaign, like we did in the last one—albeit in the last campaign, the first game we got the points in different circumstances.
It was going to be tough tonight, we knew that we had to be patient and disciplined and we did all of that.
I thought we showed a good level of professionalism; the supporters again were brilliant, creating an absolutely amazing atmosphere and the guys love playing here when there’s an atmosphere like that.
Wales will visit Austria in October for their second qualifier, while Moldova will host Serbia.