Gareth Bale grabbed his first international goals in two years after scoring a hat-trick to earn Wales a thrilling 3-2 victory in Belarus.
The Real Madrid attacker's last goal was scored against Croatia in October 2019 – a run of 16 games - but he put an end to that miserable rub in style with two penalties before his dramatic stoppage-time winner.
It was a heart-breaking end for Belarus who had turned the game on its head after Bale's first penalty, when Vitali Lisakovich and Pavel Sedko scored in the space of two first-half minutes.
Bale converted from the spot after five and 69 minutes and was then in the perfect position to turn Daniel James’ cross goalwards as time appeared to be running out on Wales’ bid to close down top-two Belgium and the Czech Republic in Group E.
But Wales are only four points behind group leaders Belgium, with a game in hand, going into Wednesday’s home qualifier against Estonia.
“It was massive. Every game counts and we know these games are the hardest. You’re expected to win," Bale said. “Everything was against us. It wasn’t a good first half whatsoever, but I thought second half we got on the front foot.
“The boys showed character and bounced back. We got the three points and that’s all that matters.”
A nightmare combination of injuries , visa issues, suspensions and Covid-19 had left interim manager Rob Page without 10 of the 23 players who were in the matchday squad for Wales’ last competitive fixture, the 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in Amsterdam at Euro 2020.
Key quartet Aaron Ramsey, Connor Roberts, Joe Rodon and Kieffer Moore were among that number, while Ethan Ampadu, Tyler Roberts and Brandon Cooper had been unable to get their Russian visa sorted in time and had returned home after Wednesday’s friendly draw in Finland.
But captain Bale, winning his 98th cap, returned to the starting line-up alongside James as Brennan Johnson and Rubin Colwill made their first competitive starts.
Belarus, ranked 89th in the FIFA world rankings and 70 places lower than Wales, had suffered a second defeat in three World Cup qualifiers in the Czech Republic on Thursday and must have feared the worst inside five minutes.
Bale was clattered by goalkeeper Sergei Chernik and banished the memory of his penalty miss against Turkey at the Euros by dispatching the spot-kick convincingly.
Joe Allen soon forced Chernik into a goal-line stop and Wales appeared in cruise control on what was a sticky surface difficult for passing.
But Belarus bared their teeth on the counter-attack and Wales then fell apart in the space of 90 seconds.
Faced with a bouncing ball, Chris Gunter was penalised for a high foot on Nikolai Zolotov and Lisakovich drilled home the equaliser from 12 yards.
Wales were still visibly shocked when Lisakovich shrugged off James Lawrence’s weak challenge and fed the unmarked Sedko to fire Belarus ahead.
The Welsh showed more intensity after the break but they were appearing to run out of ideas until Max Ebong shoved Ben Davies in the back and Bale converted from the spot again.
Wales goalkeeper Danny Ward kept the bustling Lisakovich busy with a superb save and the importance of that stop was underlined in the dying seconds.
Substitute Mark Harris’ effort was cleared off the line but James kept the move alive and Bale’s finishing instincts did the rest to keep Wales’ World Cup hopes alive.