‘Not a fluke’: Wales signal intent as Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale wins it against Belgium

'He's desperate to succeed with Wales and 50 caps tonight, great way to mark it with a goal' said Wales coach Chris Coleman as Gareth Bale slotted home the winner in a 1-0 Euro 2016 qualifying triumph over Belgium.

Gareth Bale of Wales celebrates his goal against Belgium in Euro 2016 qualifying Group B play on Friday night in Cardiff. Stu Forster / Getty Images / June 12, 2015
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Wales manager Chris Coleman predicted more glorious days ahead for his team after they moved to within sight of Euro 2016 by upsetting the odds to beat Belgium.

Gareth Bale exploited an error by Radja Nainggolan to put Wales ahead in the 25th minute at a delirious Cardiff City Stadium on Friday and the hosts withstood a barrage of second-half pressure to secure a result that takes them three points clear of Belgium in Group B.

With Israel and Cyprus two further points back, Wales and their long-suffering supporters can start to dream of a first major tournament appearance since the 1958 World Cup.

Asked if it was the biggest victory of his managerial career, Coleman replied: “That was the biggest win, but I believe there’s a bigger one coming in this campaign. I don’t know when it’ll be. It’ll be the one that says we’re going to France.

“When something like that happens, you sense the whole nation is behind you and they’re anticipating something special and you have to deliver, then of course it means more.

“We’re not getting carried away. There’s 12 points to play for, but we’ve just taken a big step forwards. That’s four points we’ve taken off Belgium, so it’s not a fluke.

“It’s not like we’ve just come out of the blocks and started well. I think we’ve lost once in two years, and that was away to Holland,” in June 2014, Coleman said.

“This group of players and my staff can take a lot of credit for the work that’s been done.

“We all know that there’s work to be done, but we can enjoy tonight and we can enjoy sitting there, looking at the league table knowing that we’re in the driving seat.”

Bale’s goal, his 17th for Wales, crowned his 50th international appearance and saw him calmly chest down Nainngolan’s misdirected header before slipping the ball beneath goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

"He's desperate to succeed with Wales and 50 caps tonight, a great way to mark it with a goal, an ice-cold finish," said Coleman, who reiterated his belief that the Real Madrid forward, who has endured a complicated season, is "one of the best players in the world".

“Someone with that talent, they’ve got to be at a final.”

As well as propelling Wales closer to next year’s tournament in France, the result is also believed to have guaranteed that they will be among the top seeds in next month’s qualifying draw for the 2018 World Cup.

“That’s good for us and that’ll be interesting to see what comes out of that,” Coleman said.

“But this is obviously our main objective. We’ve got to put this to bed and do something that the teams before us have not managed to do.”

Belgium’s preparations had been disturbed by the news that coach Marc Wilmots was in talks with Schalke over the German club’s coaching vacancy.

Schalke announced earlier on Friday that they have appointed Andre Breitenreiter as their new coach, which drew an angry response from Wilmots.

“Four hours before a match, I don’t think that’s right,” he said.

“But I decided to stay with Belgium until Euro 2016. That’s what I told my players, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Belgium, ranked second in the world by Fifa, now have only a slender advantage over Israel and Cyprus ahead of the resumption of qualifying in September, when they host Bosnia-Herzegovina before travelling to Cyprus.

But when asked if he was worried about his side’s chances of qualifying, Wilmots replied: “No, not at all. I think Wales will lose points as well.

“We have an important match against Bosnia, who are three points back. We are second with a two-point and three-point gap after six matches.

“It’s not an uncomfortable situation, but obviously we’ll try to win all our remaining matches and we’ll see who finishes top after 10 matches.”

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