Bale pushes Wales closer to Euro 2016 with late header in Cyprus
NICOSIA, Cyprus —
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 qualifying Group B for Euro 2016. It had been a frustrating 82 minutes for Bale until the goal, and his relief was evident as he charged over the touchline to hug coach Chris Coleman.
Beating Israel on Sunday will secure Wales’ first trip to a tournament since the 1958 World Cup.
Wales, which reached an all-time high ninth in FIFA’s rankings hours earlier, has a three-point lead over Belgium, which beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1. With three games remaining, Israel stayed two points further back after routing Andorra 4-0.
Israel kept alive their hopes of a top-two finish in Euro 2016 qualifying Group B with a comfortable 4-0 victory over rock-bottom Andorra in Haifa.
All four goals were scored in the opening 38 minutes as third-placed Israel stayed within touching distance of pool pacesetters Wales and Belgium, who remained five and two points better off respectively after also picking up wins on Thursday.
Eran Zahavi struck the opener after just three minutes, with Nir Bitton making it 2-0 with a 22nd-minute header. Tomer Hemed added a third from the penalty spot four minutes later before Munas Dabbur completed the scoring.
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 playoff.
FOXSoccer.com’s newswire services contributed to this report.