Gareth Bale scores twice as Wales maintain spirit of Euro 2016
Real Madrid superstar finds the net twice as 2018 World Cup campaign gets underway with a resounding win over Moldova
Wales 4 Moldova 0
After the heroics of the summer, Wales's footballers appear determined to prove that their success in France, where they reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016, was no flash in the pan. And prove it they did with a convincing start to their World Cup qualifying campaign when they beat Moldova 4-0 in Cardiff.
Their talisman Gareth Bale was the centre of attention, as he set up the first two goals and scored the second two. It was the biggest international win since for Wales since 2003.
"The Real Madrid midfielder dismantled Moldova as Wales ensured that, instead of beginning the World Cup campaign by dining out on their summer achievements, they started it by replicating them," says the Daily Telegraph.
"Bale ran the game; Joe Allen ran midfield. All that was missing from the 4-0 victory was a Cruyff turn from late substitute Hal Robson-Kanu."
Moldova, ranked 165th in the world, came to defend but could not contain Real Madrid star Bale, who was imperious. He teed up Sam Vokes for the opener, played his part in Joe Allen's second goal, latched onto a poor back pass to make it three and slotted home a penalty in injury time to cap a fine victory.
"But this was not just about Bale," says Laurie Whitwell of the Daily Mail. "As in France, it was about team spirit, cohesive thinking and quality."
There will be tougher opponents ahead during qualifying, he warns but this "was the perfect start to their task of reaching the World Cup in Russia".
So confident are Wales these days that it is not the chances of qualifying from a group also featuring Austria, Ireland and Serbia that concern observers, but the prospect of Bale overtaking Ian Rush's Wales goal-scoring record.
He is currently on 24, leaving him second on the all-time list, and only four behind Rush.
"[Bale] has now scored 20 goals in his last 31 appearances for his country," says The Guardian. "Only four arrived in the first 31 matches – and [manager Chris] Coleman predicts that Rush's record will fall by the time Wales finish their campaign at home against the Republic of Ireland in October next year."