Vokes at the double in Wales victory
Wales made light of the Olympic furore that has engulfed them as a late quickfire double from substitute Sam Vokes helped them secure three successive wins for the first time since 2008 with a handsome 4-1 victory over Norway in Cardiff.
Much of the build-up to the match had centred on Gareth Bale and captain Aaron Ramsey’s appearances in promotional images for a Team GB shirt.
The Football Association of Wales do not want their players involved in the Games, but the Tottenham man highlighted why he is likely to be on Stuart Pearce’s wishlist as his fierce volley broke the deadlock after just 11 minutes.
Craig Bellamy doubled the lead just five minutes later with a superb curling effort from the edge of the box, before Erik Huseklepp’s fortuitous second-half tap-in gave Norway hope.
But Wolves forward Vokes sealed the win with his brace in the dying minutes.
Despite the debate over their availability for London 2012, the names of Ramsey and Bale were loudly cheered by the home support prior to kick-off, although a lone ‘No Team GB’ banner was briefly unfurled at one end of the ground.
And Wales, allowed by FIFA to wear poppies on their black armbands as a mark of respect for Remembrance Day, made a confident start with Ramsey heading over from a Bellamy free-kick and Andrew Crofts dragging wide from the edge of the box.
And it was no surprise when the hosts opened the scoring after 11 minutes through Bale.
The Tottenham man cleverly chested down a long Adam Matthews’ pass to Steve Morison, with the Norwich striker’s instant return allowing Bale to smash a volley beyond Norway goalkeeper Rune Almenning Jarstein for his third goal in consecutive internationals.
The visitors had barely had any possession to speak of and they soon found themselves 2-0 down thanks to a stunning strike from Bellamy.
The Liverpool striker used Matthews’ overlapping run down the left as a decoy to cut inside and curl home his first international goal in 15 months from the edge of the area.
Norway responded with their first spell of genuine pressure and striker Mohammed Abdellaoue saw his low strike cannon away to safety off a post.
But the pace of Bellamy and Bale meant Wales remained a real threat on the counter attack, and another purposeful forward raid by the former set up Morison, although his low effort was blocked by Jarstein.
Norway had grown into the game after their terrible start but had rarely troubled the Welsh defence.
But the hosts then gifted the visitors a way back into the match in the 61st minute.
Huseklepp looked to have miscontrolled as he tried to get in on goal, but Wayne Hennessey failed to cleanly gather the loose ball and it rebounded off Crofts into a vacant six-yard box, leaving the Portsmouth striker with the simplest of finishes.
Morten Gamst Pedersen went close to getting on the end of Ruud’s ball across the six-yard box as Norway attacked with renewed vigour.
Wales responded as Bellamy hit the side-netting after working some space on the left-hand side of the area.
A timely intervention by Brede Hangeland denied Ramsey a simple finish after another surging run from Bellamy, before Bale glanced a header wide from a corner.
There were some signs of nerves at the other end, with Abdellaoue’s height proving a menace to the Welsh back four.
But the home rearguard held firm and the win was secured when Bale and Bellamy again combined brilliantly for the Spurs’ winger to set up Vokes to slide home in the 88th minute.
And the striker rounded off the scoring by firing low into the bottom left hand corner just a minute later.