Israel 0 Wales 3
Gareth Bale turned on the style as Wales took a huge step towards qualifying for Euro 2016 with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Israel in Haifa.
Bale came into the contest after criticism in Spain for his form at Real Madrid but the 25-year-old scored twice and set up the other as Wales took over top spot in Group B by ending Israel’s 100 per cent record.
The second-half brace took Bale past the 15-goal international tally of the great John Charles and into joint sixth place on the list of all-time Wales scorers alongside Cliff Jones, Mark Hughes and Robert Earnshaw.
Aaron Ramsey had given Wales the lead on the stroke of half-time with a looping header and there was no way back for Israel when defender Eytan Tibi was sent off for a second bookable offence moments after Bale had doubled the lead with a trademark free-kick.
Bale then finished Israel off in the 77th minute.
Wales manager Chris Coleman had described the meeting between the top two in the group as his country’s biggest game since the Euro 2004 play-off defeat to Russia and there was a sizzling atmosphere at kick-off with so much at stake.
The visitors attempted to take the early sting out of the occasion by keeping possession and frustrating the home support whose whistles were almost deafening.
Israel made the occasional run forward but Wales looked more dangerous, and Tibi’s mistake allowed Bale his first sight of goal, but he sent his left-footed shot wide.
However, Wales took heart and should have gone ahead in the 19th minute. Israel gave Bale far too much space down the left and his cross presented James Collins with a tap-in at the far post but the West Ham defender somehow got the ball stuck under his feet.
Bale soon threatened again but he was snuffed out and Israel began to settle, find their rhythm and forcing Welsh mistakes, with Eran Zahavi bringing a save from Wayne Hennessey.
Israel suffered a blow before the break when five-goal Omer Damari, the joint top goalscorer in Euro qualifying before this round of fixtures, had to be helped from the field and replaced by Tomer Hamed.
It looked as if the first half would end goalless but seconds before the break Bale flicked on Hennessey’s long punt and Ramsey looped his header into the net to hand Wales a deserved lead.
Wales were forced into a change within two minutes of the re-start as Joe Ledley went off to be replaced by David Vaughan but Bale was in no mood to take it easy on Israel’s lax defending.
Tibi brought him down right on the edge of the area to earn himself a yellow card and there was more punishment to come when Bale sent the 50th minute free-kick past a static Marciano.
It was Bale’s fifth goal in his last six games for Wales but his first since a double at the start of the campaign against Andorra.
And it got better for Wales a minute later when Tibi felled Bale and gave Serbian referee Milorad Mazic no option but to brandish a second yellow before producing the red card.
Wales were now in total control and Bale scampered through before missing the target at the near post while Hal Robson-Kanu sent his shot on the turn skywards.
But there was a warning for Wales when they failed to cut out Lior Refaelov’s free-kick and Hennessey had to react smartly to block Hemed’s shot with his legs at the near post.
Sam Vokes was sent on for Robson-Kanu to make his first international appearance for over a year after suffering cruciate ligament damage and almost scored with his first touch.
But there was no denying Wales a third goal as Ramsey surged down the left and picked out Bale, who finished emphatically for his 16th goal for his country.
Bale ran out of time to collect the match ball but he will not mind as Wales seem to be heading towards their own promised land of playing at a major tournament for the first time since the 1958 World Cup.