CARDIFF: Daniel James was Wales’ goal-scoring hero as they launched their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win over Slovakia in Cardiff on Sunday.
Swansea winger James, making his first competitive start for Wales, struck in just the fifth minute with a goal that ultimately saw the hosts to victory.
Wales manager Ryan Giggs made 11 changes from Wednesday’s 1-0 friendly victory over Trinidad and Tobago, with star forward Gareth Bale captaining the side after veteran skipper Ashley Williams was dropped down to the bench.
Slovakia, by contrast, were unchanged after beating Hungary 2-0 in their opening qualifier on Thursday.
The Cardiff City Stadium was bathed in sunshine and Wales made an equally bright start to the delight of their fans.
Harry Wilson and David Brooks combined well down the right but any threat seemed to end when Brooks’ pass went straight to Slovakia defender Peter Pekarik.
But Pekarik was then dispossessed on the edge of the box by the 21-year-old James, who then shot powerfully past Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka to fire Wales in front.
Wales, trying to capitalise on Bale’s speed, almost had a second goal in the 21st minute when Brooks smashed a shot into the side-netting.
Brooks then came close to making it 2-0 with a superb solo effort that saw him beat two defenders before his swerving shot beat Dubravka only to curl just past the far post.
The only concern for Manchester United great Giggs at half-time would have been that Wales were just 1-0 ahead, with plenty of time left for Slovakia to get back into the game.
Slovakia then created their best chance of the match thus far early in the second half when Albert Rusnak was one-on-one with Wayne Hennessey only for the Wales goalkeeper to block his shot, with the ball rebounding off the Slovakian before it went wide.
Hennessey had to be alert to deny Rusnak a second time before Wales hit back, with Wilson shooting narrowly wide past a beaten Dubravka from James’ cross.
Wales found themselves pinned in their own half late on and Slovakia should have equalised with seven minutes left.
Rusnak’s precise cross found Michal Duris, but the substitute’s header was tipped away by Wayne Hennessey into the six-yard box rather than clear of danger.
David Hancko, following up, had a superb chance to level from close range but instead miscued his shot completely and that allowed Wales to clear the ball.
The fifth and final minute of stoppage time saw Slovakia awarded a corner following Miroslav Stoch’s deflected effort.
But the referee then blew for the end of the match, a decision that saw him surrounded by angry Slovakia players, with Juraj Kucka then shown a yellow card for dissent.