Wales keep up strong start in qualifying with win over Latvia
Wales continued their promising start to Euro 2024 qualifying with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Latvia in Cardiff.
Kieffer Moore’s first-half header, his 10th international goal, secured Wales a precious victory to make it four points from their opening two games.
Wales had numerous chances to make their evening more comfortable against opponents ranked among the lowest in Europe.
But Wales boss Rob Page will be delighted with what many will consider an above-par start ahead of June qualifiers against Armenia and Turkey.
Wales were on a high after Nathan Broadhead’s stoppage-time equaliser had given them a 1-1 draw in their opening qualifier away to Croatia.
But Wales’ recent record made grim reading: only two wins in 14 games with their last victory being the World Cup play-off final success against Ukraine in June.
With Ben Davies and Brennan Johnson again ruled out by injury, Page named the same side that had stunned the World Cup semi-finalists in Split.
Latvia were a far different proposition to the one Wales had met on Saturday, 133rd in the FIFA world rankings and 105 places below the Dragons who also had the advantage of a sell-out Cardiff City Stadium behind them.
The capacity crowd of 32,806 paid homage to Gareth Bale, who ended his glittering career in January as the team’s most-capped player and record goalscorer, before kick-off.
Bale was honoured with a pitchside presentation and was clearly emotional as he addressed the supporters, thanking them for being able to play in front of the “best fans in the world”.
The former Real Madrid star and Wales captain barely had time to take his seat before Daniel James sprinted past Roberts Savalnieks down the left.
Moore let his cross run to Wilson and goalkeeper Pavels Steinbors blocked well with his legs to deny Wales the perfect start.
Wilson was sharp down Wales’ right, despite his lack of game time at Fulham, but Latvia defended deep and kept the hosts at arm’s length.
Latvia also had a useful focal point in 6ft 5in forward Roberts Uldrikis and were a nuisance at corners, Danny Ward first denying Marcis Oss with a sprawling save before Kristers Tobers headed over.
Vladislavs Gutkovskis’ flick also had Ward scrambling across goal, but Wales – with skipper Aaron Ramsey operating in a deeper playmaking role – gradually began to sustain pressure and fashion attempts.
Moore flashed wide from 25 yards and Neco Williams and Ethan Ampadu were also off target from distance with well-struck efforts.
The goal Wales craved arrived four minutes before half-time when Ramsey and James combined cleverly.
James located Moore at the far post and the Bournemouth forward sent a thumping header past Steinbors and inside his post.
Wilson tested Steinbors and the goalkeeper produced an even better save moments after the interval to tip Williams’ ferocious drive onto the crossbar.
Steinbors stood tall again to foil Wilson, but Ward stuck out a foot at the other end to stop Gutkovskis from equalising after the striker had done well to twist his way past Joe Rodon.
Latvia applied late pressure and anxiety for the home fans, but Wales held on for their first win in 10 games.