Wales took a huge step towards the knockout stages of Euro 2020 with a hard-fought but warranted victory against Turkey.
The Dragons had picked up a useful point in their opener but, with Italy looming in the final group game, the stakes were high in Baku as Group A action resumed with a crucial Wales win.
Robert Page’s side capitalised on a slow start from the Turks, who were at times defensively disorganised and lacking intensity. Aaron Ramsey, in particular, had joy running from midfield to collect measured passes over the top, though twice spurned the opportunity to break the deadlock early on.
Turkey improved and provided their usual threat from set-pieces, with two efforts cleared from near the goal-line before the break.
Yet it was Wales and Ramsey celebrating a half-time lead as the Juventus man escaped in behind again, took Gareth Bale’s path on his chest and finally found the finishing touch to make it 1-0.
If that was more characteristic from Ramsey, Bale’s penalty miss after an hour was not and ensured a nervy contest played out for the remainder of the game. Ethan Ampadu, a stoppage-time substitute against Switzerland on Saturday, again saw action from the bench, replacing Joe Allen in midfield for the final 20 minutes.
His introduction came as Turkey were beginning to control the centre of the pitch and build up a head of steam. However, the 20-year-old’s fresh legs and cool head helped settle Welsh nerves, even calming team-mates and opponents alike as tempers threatened to boil over late on.
Deep into added time, the group points were sealed by Swansea City’s Connor Roberts, teed up by Bale from a short corner routine. It was practically the last kick of a draining game in the dry Azerbaijani heat, an enthralling encounter concluding with red dragons hoisted into the air and the small contingent of Wales supporters jubilant.
Wales are now on four points in Group A and currently sit top ahead of Italy’s meeting with Switzerland later in the evening. They can finish no lower than third, with four points having been enough for a place in the last-16 back in 2016 when the format was expanded to 24 teams and the advent of four best-ranked third-placed teams progressing was introduced.
Wales finish their group campaign in Rome against Italy on Sunday.