Football Features

Moore and Wilson keep Welsh automatic hopes alive: Five things learned from Azerbaijan 0-2 Wales

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 19:07, 16 November 2019

Wales kept their hopes of automatically qualifying for Euro 2020 alive following a 2-0 win at Azerbaijan.

Ryan Giggs’ men were already guaranteed a play-off berth but were determined to keep their fate in their own hands.

Having struggled on the road of late, this was a breakthrough moment for the Dragons who had Kieffer Moore and Harry Wilson to thank for a rare away victory.

With the dust beginning to settle, here are five things we learned from the encounter…

1. Moore, Moore, Moore 

It’s never too late to represent your country. Kieffer Moore won his first Welsh cap a month after turning 27 – a 1-0 friendly win over Belarus in September – and the Torquay-born centre-forward would subsequently mark his first competitive start against Slovakia on October 10, with a goal.

His next appearance couldn’t yield a goal, something he’s become quite accustomed to at club level with Championship outfit Wigan, having currently scored just once in 14 league outings this season.

That lack of ruthlessness, however, didn’t discourage Dragons boss Ryan Giggs who fielded him from the offset on Saturday evening. In Baku, Moore immediately repaid his manager’s faith by putting Wales in front after 10 minutes; scoring a header at the back post from Harry Wilson’s in-swinging corner.

Aside from his goal, Moore offered Wales a focal point from which the likes of Wilson, Gareth Bale and Daniel James fed off. This, more than anything, explains why Giggs retained faith in him. Moore simply makes those around him play well, which should stand Wales in good stead going forward.

2. Bale’s enjoying himself

Bale raised a few eyebrows after revealing that playing for Wales gives him more excitement than Real Madrid, where his struggles are well-documented. This comment, though, shouldn’t have exploded like it did as many footballers enjoy turning out more for their nation.

In the case of Bale it’s understandable, there’s every chance his time with Los Blancos is coming to an end, and the fact he remained beyond this summer was surprising.

Saturday’s game further reminded everyone why he’s a godsend for his national team. The days of him playing as an out-and-out winger seemed consigned to the past, but for large swathes of the game Bale was hugging the touchline, stretching Azerbaijan’s defence to great effect which allowed Giggs’ various attacking players, notably James on the opposite flank, to regularly occupy the space behind Moore.

3. Bucking the trend

If there’s been one thing that has followed Wales of late, it’s been their weak goalscoring record on the road. If we just look at competitive away games since Giggs took charge, the Dragons mustered only three goals from six outings before Saturday. In each of those matches Wales have been unable to score more than once.

That all changed when Moore and Harry Wilson – nodding in from close range after Daniel James long range effort struck the woodwork – helped the visitors pull out a 2-0 lead before the 35th minute. You have to go back to September 2017, in a World Cup qualifier at Moldova, for the last time a Wales team managed to register more than one away goal in a single game.

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4. For club and country

Since making his eye-catching switch to Manchester United in the summer, Daniel James has become an integral part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team. In fact, he’s started in 11 of their 12 league outings. That newfound importance at Old Trafford has been picked up by the Welsh national team, whom he’s been ever-present with this season.

James, including Saturday, has now started in Wales’ last seven international fixtures, scoring twice and creating a further two for his teammates including, inadvertently, for Wilson in Baku. He doesn’t turn 23 until next month and Wales’ forthcoming meeting with Hungary will likely see him earn cap number 10 and it already feels like this is the beginning of a long – and potentially fruitful – career.

5. Streak over

As touched upon, Wales’ record on the road under Giggs has been poor. Going into this weekend’s showdown in Baku they had experienced four consecutive matches without an away win – including three defeats.

So this was a rare victory on the road. Wales’ last away from the Principality came across the Irish Sea in Dublin more than a year ago, the goalscorer on that day – in a 1-0 victory – was none other than Harry Wilson.

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