Heart at core of Welsh victory

 

It was never easy and not for a moment was it comfortable, but at the end of another unrelenting struggle Wales had a second successive European Championship victory to their name and a place alongside Italy at the head of Group One.

Successive wins, especially when fused with this much drama, are a rare intrusion on a Welsh landscape of disappointment and underachievement.

The smile on the face of Bobby Gould, a manager under severe pressure a week ago, was wide indeed as Kit Symons headed them with six minutes remaining of an exciting game in Cardiff.

Although Belarus left Vladimir Makovski on his own up front, Gould was reluctant to make a change to the sweeper system that had played a crucial part in the Copenhagen victory.

With Adrian Williams ruled out by a neck injury, it fell to Robbie Savage to take on the "spare man" duties with the responsibility of stiffening Wales's midfield.

In the 15th minute Mark Pembridge skinned his opponent with a skilful change of feet before laying a clever ball inside to John Robinson, who scored high into the net.

Within six minutes, however, Sergei Gurenko arrived full length to put away a header for Belarus.

Now the visitors played the ball around with impressive control, finding little angles that frequently gave them possession in and around the box.

Of the two sides, they were beginning to look the more accomplished even though Pembridge, hesitating when Barnard set him up on the six-yard line, should have sent them into the interval behind once more.

That missed opportunity began to look even more expensive four minutes into the second half when Valentin Delkevich was allowed to carry the ball deep into the Welsh defence, eventually finding himself one on one with Paul Jones. The goalkeeper was fractionally slow to spot the danger and was easily bypassed as the Belarus striker slotted home.

Without Ryan Giggs, Wales had to put so much store by heart rather than craft. In the 54th minute their commitment brought them back on level terms as Chris Coleman took advantage at the far post when Blake's powerful downward header had bounced up and off the top of the crossbar.

In Zurich, the Welsh cause was advanced when Switzerland and Denmark drew 1-1. Wales, behind Italy on goal difference, are now four points clear of the Danes.

Wales: Jones, Robinson, Barnard, Savage, Symons, Coleman, Johnson, Saunders, Blake, Hughes, Pembridge. Subs Not Used: Jenkins, Trollope, Bellamy, Roberts, Young, Williams, Ward. Booked: Barnard. Goals: Robinson 15, Coleman 54, Symons 85.

Belarus: Satsunkevich, Iakhimovitch, Ost rovski, Satanuk, Gerashchenko (Romaschenko 87), Gurenko, Khatskevich, Baranov (Gera simets 70), Belkevich, Makovski (Katchouro 73), Lavrik. Subs Not Used: Shanto losov, Shakia, Tarlovski, Mazur. Booked: Gurenko, Khats kevich, Gerashchenko. Goals: Gurenko 21, Bel kevich 48. Att: 11,975.

Referee: Lawrence Sammut (Malta).