When Wales were surprise semi-finalists in Euro 2016, Kieffer Moore had just completed a season when he scored a mere two goals in the National League for Forest Green Rovers.
But Wales can specialise in creating improbable heroes and allowing footballers with lowly origins to make an indelible mark on the international stage. When defeat beckoned, Moore capped a journey that has taken him via Torquay, Ipswich, Rotherham, Barnsley, Wigan and Cardiff into Euro 2020 and, potentially, Welsh folklore. “It was a big occasion and I loved every second of it,” he said.
One in particular, presumably. Joe Morrell – who spent 2016-17 on loan in non-league football – crossed, Moore ghosted into space and applied a glancing header. Wales had an equaliser and a point against Switzerland.
Their performance may not have merited it but perhaps Moore did, both for a rise from obscurity and a wholehearted display. He had almost scored earlier with a forceful header from Daniel James’ cross; Yann Sommer clawed that away but not the target man’s second effort. “He has been terrific at international level,” said his manager, Robert Page. “He thoroughly deserved a goal.”
It would be an exaggeration to say Moore had the final say. Wales then had a reprieve courtesy of VAR when Mario Gavranovic, who had only been on the pitch for a minute, met the scorer Breel Embolo’s header with an emphatic volley; replays showed the Swiss substitute was offside.
“We had a little bit of lady luck with the offside,” added Page. “I am so proud of the players. They had to dig deep. It feels like a win in the changing room.”
And Moore’s goal was a reward for Page. The caretaker manager may have got his system wrong – by playing 4-2-3-1, instead of the 3-4-3 Wales often use. Switzerland were able to dominate possession while Aaron Ramsey was quiet and Gareth Bale starved of service – but he got two personnel decisions spectacularly right.
Moore was certainly not an automatic choice but preferring the target man to a false nine was justified. In goal, the veteran Wayne Hennessey was benched in favour of Danny Ward. Kasper Schmeichel’s understudy for Leicester was brilliant.
He made a terrific close-range save when Fabian Schar improvised a backheel flick. He excelled again when Embolo span, powered through and shot. At the end, he made a terrific save from an Embolo header and another to deny Gavranovic, even if the latter was offside again.
His heroics were required, along with the defiant defending of Joe Rodon and Chris Mepham. “If we have to dig a trench and put our tin hats on, we will do it,” said Page.
His team spent much of the match on the back foot, alleviated only by the speedy counter-attacking of the impressive, and surprisingly substituted, James. “He looked dead on his feet,” Page said, explaining James’ withdrawal after some relentless running.
Ward’s second superb save had only preserved parity for seconds. From the resulting corner, Embolo held off Conor Roberts to head in. Weight of pressure had told. Wales had to defend a host of crosses from Ricardo Rodriguez and menacing set-pieces from Xherdan Shaqiri.
For Switzerland, however, it was scarcely the first time they could rue the profligacy of a forward. Not Embolo, who was terrific, who set up Kevin Mbabu when the right-back ought to have doubled Switzerland’s advantage, but instead shot wide, and who had almost struck himself after a jinking run.
But Haris Seferovic, who has found goals easy to come by for Benfica and elusive in major tournaments. He could be forgiven when he shot wide on the turn and just cleared the bar with an effort from the edge of the box. But he ought to have scored when he blazed over from six yards. Switzerland’s 18 attempts produced a solitary goal and a lone point.