NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) With a late bullet-header, Gareth Bale powered Wales closer to the European Championship and ending a 58-year wait to qualify for a major tournament again.
The Real Madrid forward clinched a 1-0 victory in Cyprus on Thursday with his sixth goal in Euro 2016 qualifying, maintaining a three-point lead over Belgium in Group B.
It had been a frustrating 82 minutes for Bale until he rose in the penalty area to meet Ashley Richards’ cross with a powerful header. Bale’s relief at scoring, and the magnitude of the win, was evident as he charged over the touchline to hug coach Chris Coleman.
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Beating Israel on Sunday will secure a first trip to a tournament since the 1958 World Cup for Wales, which began Thursday by rising to an all-time high ninth in FIFA’s rankings.
”We know what we have to do,” Bale said. ”We are a strong team, we are together. We know what our capabilities are. We have earned the right to be in this position.”
Belgium nudged closer to the finals in France by beating Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1 with first-half goals from Marouane Fellaini and Kevin De Bruyne, and a late penalty from Eden Hazard.
With three games remaining, Israel stayed two points behind Belgium in third after routing Andorra 4-0.
The top two teams from each of the nine groups are guaranteed a place in France. The best third-place team also qualifies and the other eight contest a play-off.