Cyprus 0 Wales 1
Gareth Bale’s late header has put Wales within tantalising reach of qualifying for Euro 2016.
Bale settled a scrappy game against Cyprus in Nicosia when he met Jazz Richards’ cross eight minutes from time – his sixth goal of a campaign which leaves unbeaten Wales with 17 points from seven games.
So the maths are simple now: beat Israel in Cardiff on Sunday and Wales will be heading to France next summer for their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup.
Wales made three enforced changes for their vital Euro 2016 qualifier against Cyprus in Nicosia.
The suspended Joe Allen and injured James Chester were joined on the sidelines by late hamstring casualty Joe Ledley. Ben Davies, Andy King and David Edwards came into the starting line-up following the victory over Belgium which had taken Wales into top spot in Group B.
Cyprus made four changes from the team which won 3-1 at Andorra in June after being hit by suspension and injury, with captain Constantinos Charalambides, Kostas Laifis, Giorgos Economides and Andreas Makris all coming into the side.
Wales started the day in buoyant mood, having moved above England in the FIFA rankings for the first time in their history.
But manager Chris Coleman had warned it would count for nothing if they failed to qualify for next summer’s European Championship in France.
Coleman’s side had taken a huge step towards that objective by beating Belgium in June to move three points clear at the top of Group B and knew victory over Cyprus and Israel in the space of four days would guarantee Wales’ first appearance at a major tournament since 1958.
Both sides carried moments of danger in a high-energy start, but it was Wales who had the first opportunity when Gareth Bale drew defenders for Aaron Ramsey to fire just over the crossbar from 18 yards.
Wales were even closer to taking the lead after 10 minutes when Cyprus goalkeeper Antonis Georgallides made a hash of Bale’s 30-yard free-kick before redeeming himself by blocking Neil Taylor’s follow-up effort.
There were Cypriot howls for a penalty when Nestor Mytidis tumbled in the box under Ashley Williams’ challenge and the Wales captain was in the right place to cut out a near-post cross as the hosts threatened.
Bale had uncharacteristically been guilty of a couple of misplaced passes, but he sprang to life after 27 minutes when he toyed with a couple of defenders before crossing from the right.
Edwards met it to headed home but Polish referee Szymon Marciniak had spotted a push on a Cyprus defender with Hal Robson-Kanu, perhaps harshly, judged to be the guilty man.
The incident, however, sparked Bale into life and a clever interchange with Robson-Kanu presented an opportunity for the Real Madrid forward to bear down on the home goal.
Bale looked as if he had got away until a terrific sliding intervention from Laifis stopped him in his tracks.
Cyprus continued to try to find Mytidis whenever they could and the big targetman forced a save out of Wayne Hennessey only to discover that he had been flagged for offside.
Wales also breathed a sigh of relief five minutes before the break when Charalambidis’ free-kick picked out Makris but his rising drive cleared the bar by some distance.
Wales needed to establish their authority on the contest but Cyprus almost took advantage when they again coughed up possession straight after the re-start.
Marios Nikolaou took aim from 25 yards and Hennessey could only shovel the ball out in front of him for Williams to clear.
Bale was dropping deeper to try and influence proceedings and he slipped through Robson-Kanu who tried to round Georgallides, but the goalkeeper was off his line quickly and got a vital touch on the ball.
Cyprus were gaining encouragement from the amount of times Wales were carelessly conceding possession, albeit on a hard surface, and Economides sent another shot across Welsh bows from 20 yards.
The game was going through a lull and it seemed to be playing into Cypriot hands as Wales were making little headway in the final third, even one mazy Bale dribble coming to nothing.
Wales sent on Sam Vokes for the final quarter to replace Robson-Kanu as Coleman identified the need to hold the ball up better and provide an attacking platform.
Vokes was instantly into the action to meet Bale's cross at the near post but the shot lacked any power and was easily collected by Georgallides.
Cyprus’ own substitute Nikos Englezou almost made an immediate impact breaking into space down the left but Hennessey calmly waved the effort wide.
It was now a case of whether anyone would risk defeat by pushing for the winner and there were initial signs that Wales might be satisfied with a point.
But Taylor burst down the left to engineer a chance 11 minutes from time, his pull-back picked out Ramsey but Georgallides stood tall to bat the ball away.
Within three minutes, though, Wales were in dreamland when Richards crossed and Bale jumped in front of his marker to power home a header for his 18th goal for his country.
Hennessey saved from Pieros Sotiriou at the death but Wales had done enough to take another massive step on the road to France.