Bale brace saves Welsh blushes

Gareth Bale spared Wales blushes when his stunning free-kick late helped his side overcame tiny Andorra in their Euro 2016 Group B qualification opener.

Bale brace saves Welsh blushes

The hosts took an early lead on their artificial turf through an Ildefons Lima penalty after a Neil Taylor foul but Real Madrid’s Bale headed home from Ben Davies’s cross before the break to level matters.

Bale’s trademark dipping set-piece may just have saved his manager Chris Coleman’s job.

In the group’s other game, Dimitris Christofi netted a brace as Cyprus struck back to claim a 2-1 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina, after Vedad Ibisevic had given the hosts a sixth-minute lead.

In Group A, the Netherlands — third in the World Cup — lost 2-1 to the Czech Republic. Borek Dockal gave the Czechs a first-half lead but Stefan de Vrij equalised on 55 minutes. Vaclav Pilar capitalised on calamitous defending to secure a Czech win.

Iceland got their Group A campaign up and running with an emphatic 3-0 win at home to 10-man Turkey, with goals from Jon Dadi Boedvarsson, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, while Kazakhstand and Latvia drew 0-0.

In Group H, Simone Zaza scored his first goal for Italy as the Azzurri kicked off the new era under Antonio Conte with a 2-0 victory over Norway. Striker Zaza is the first ever Sassuolo player to receive an Italy call-up and his 16th minute finish gave Conte’s side the lead. Leonardo Bonucci’s added the insurance goal.

Elsewhere in the group, Croatia had a 2-0 victory over Malta in Zagreb. Malta did well to limit Croatia to half-chances early on, but the 30th-minute dismissal of Malta defender Steve Borg swung the Group H contest in Croatia’s favour and second-half goals from Luka Modric and Andrej Kramaric secured victory for Niko Kovac’s side.

Azerbaijan went down 1-2 to Bulgaria in the other game. Ilian Micanski put Bulgaria ahead but Dimitrij Nazarov equalised for the hosts before Ventsislav Hristov’s late winner.

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