An Aaron Ramsey double saw Wales cruise into the European Championships.
The Juventus man scored either side of half-time to see off a timid Hungary side, and take Wales to a second major tournament in just four years.
Giggs guides Wales to finals
The promised land always lies on the other side of the wilderness, as the old saying goes.
Much has been made of Ryan Giggs’ lukewarm rapport with Welsh football fans over the years, but he has succeeded in his essential goal.
For all the underwhelming football his side have often produced, Wales will be in December’s European Championships draw with all the usual suspects, and with an attacking trio as exciting as Ramsey, Gareth Bale and Daniel James, it would take a brave man to rule out a repeat of their heroics four years ago.
Welsh tension becomes delirium
The music belting out of the PA at the Cardiff City Stadium was designed to create an atmosphere, but they needn’t have bothered. The magnitude of the occasion was palpable, and Land of My Fathers was belted out with an almost hungry intensity.
Thirty thousand voices sang, in Welsh, for ‘brave warriors and fine patriots’. The dire consequences of defeat seemed to bring out both in the home side.
Such was the tension amongst the home support that there was almost a resentment over their having to wait ninety minutes to find out the result. The first Wales chance, a sixth minute free-kick easily cleared away, was met by groans not of disapproval but of tragicomic frustration as fans realised they would not be able to relax for some time yet.
Wales' attacking pace was guaranteed to cause problems, but Kieffer Moore’s early hold-up play was superb in allowing them to settle into the game.
Hungary looked vulnerable on the break, and soon Ramsey found space to plough forwards, releasing Bale on the edge of the area. The Real Madrid man cut onto his favoured left-foot, but fired straight at the Gulasci in the Hungary goal.
His contribution was decisive minutes later however. Under pressure on the right touchline, he cut inside and delivered an inch-perfect cross into the six yard box, where Ramsey was waiting to nod home. The Cardiff City Stadium exploded.
Amongst the celebrations, it was notable to hear Moore’s name chanted the loudest. He wasn’t the man on the scoresheet, but boy was he putting in a shift.
The visitors were not without chances, Botond Barath doing superbly well to head just wide from a full eighteen yards out. Minutes later, Szoboszlai was felled in the box, but without sufficient contact to impress the referee.
Wales broke fast and once again Bale was the provider, crossing for Moore six yards out; he did well to rise above the defender, but headed agonisingly wide when it seemed easier to score.
They were almost made to rue this miss immediately, Hungary denied only by a stunning double-save from Wayne Hennessey as the equaliser felt inevitable. Like Moore before him, he was serenaded for his efforts.
At half-time you could sense almost thirty thousand minds thinking the same: a good first-half, but 1-0 is never enough. But no one predicted the intensity with which Wales came out at the restart.
Kieffer Moore rose to meet a free-kick delivery, finding the feet of Ramsey yards out. The Juventus man finished with all the quality of a player at the top of the European game. Giggs reacted quickly, bringing Ampadu on for the tenacious Morrell to solidify the midfield.
Composure under pressure
It was Hungary who needed to score, but Wales still looked far more likely. Even after the defensive change, wave after wave of attack came from the men in red. Ramsey controlled the game like a man well aware of his technical superiority to almost anyone on the pitch, and was only denied his hattrick by a smart Gulacsi save.
Hungary attacked, but to no avail, their most coordinated moves on display in the away end, as the visiting fans sang admirably to the final whistle.
As added time approached Wales sat deeper, and heroic blocks from Allen and Ampadu were required to keep the score comfortable.
Bale was withdrawn to a standing ovation, and all that was left was to run out the clock. For stage directions, read 'Exit, tension. Enter, delirium.'
Next summer awaits
Welsh fans waited fifty-eight years to reach a major international tournament. Now they’re in their second in just four years.
Doubts still remain over Giggs’ suitability to take this side forward, but he knows one or two things about triumph in Europe. With the trio of Bale, Ramsey and James at his disposal, who knows what Wales can achieve next summer.