After a career in top-level football spanning nearly three decades, Ryan Giggs enjoyed one of the best days of his life as he contemplates finally competing at a major tournament with Wales.
What Giggs could not manage as a player, he has achieved as a coach, as Aaron Ramsey’s two goals – on his first competitive start since September 2018 – ensured Wales secured the victory over Hungary they needed to qualify automatically for Euro 2020 next summer.
They were also indebted to a superb double save by Wayne Hennessey in the first half, with the score at 1-0. A draw would have condemned Wales to the play-offs next spring.
The victorious Welsh players gather for a team picture as they celebrating sealing their place at next year’s Euro 2020
Gareth Bale celebrates after Wales sealed automatic qualification for next summer’s European Championship
Welsh boss Ryan Giggs embraces Joe Allen after the hosts beat Hungary in Tuesday night’s must-win match
Harry Wilson, Aaron Ramsey, Bale, Wayne Hennessey and Ethan Ampadu (L-R) lead the celebrations after the final whistle
Wales’ jubilant players slide on the ground in front of the home supporters after securing the three points they needed
Wales players celebrate after going 2-0 up against Hungary in their crucial Euro 2020 qualifier on Tuesday night
Gareth Bale and Joe Allen celebrate with Ramsey after he opened the scoring with a header in the 15th minute of the game
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
WALES (4-2-3-1): Hennessey 7.5; C Roberts 6.5, Lockyer 6, Mepham 6.5, B Davies 6.5; Allen 8, Morrell 6.5 (Ampadu 50, 6); Bale 8 (Wilson 88), Ramsey 8.5, James 8; Moore 6
Subs not used: A Davies, King, Gunter, J Lawrence, Williams, Vokes, Levitt, T Roberts, Matondo, Vaulks
Goalscorers: Ramsey 15, 47
Booked: Lockyer, James
Manager: Ryan Giggs 7.5
HUNGARY (4-2-3-1): Gulacsi 5.5; Loverncsics 5, Barath 5.5, Lang 6, Z Nagy 4; Patkai 6, A Nagy 5.5 (Kovacs 60, 5.5); Dzsudzsak 5.5 (R Varga 72, 6), Szoboszlai 5, Sallai 5 (Holender 83, 6); Adam Szalai 6
Subs not used: Dibusz, Kovacsik, Attila Szalai, Gazdag, Feczesin, Vida, Pavkovics, Holman, Bese
Booked: Patkai, Kovacs
Manager: Marco Rossi 5.5
Referee: Ovidiu Hategan 6
‘It doesn’t get any better,’ said Wales boss Giggs, who won 34 trophies during a stellar playing career with Manchester United, but could not come close to that success for his country. ‘It is one of the greatest nights of my life – simple as that.
‘All credit to the lads to show the determination they have. With the quality in this squad, they can do a lot more. The lads who have come in have done brilliantly but it can get better. We’ve missed Aaron Ramsey, but better late than never I suppose.
‘We’ve got some very good players but those who can make the difference don’t grow on trees, and Aaron was the difference in this game.
‘It’s a special night. After what happened in the summer, to come back and qualify, the lads deserve all the plaudits they will get. There was no room for error.
‘I never got nervous as a player but as a manager, you’re nervous 24/7. You prepare the team as best you can but come game day, it’s out of your hands.
‘I asked the players who reached Euro 2016 to climb that mountain again and it’s not easy to do that. A lot has been said about the young players but you need the older players.
Wales’ players lined up in an odd formation for the team picture ahead of kick-off at the Cardiff City Stadium
Tom Lockyer puts pressure on Hungary striker Adam Szalai during the opening exchanges on Tuesday night
Wales striker Kieffer Moore attempts to close down Hungary’s Adam Lang as he gains possession of the ball
Ramsey found himself in plenty of space to direct Gareth Bale’s inch-perfect cross into the back of the Hungary net
Aaron Ramsey celebrates in front of the home fans after doubling his side’s lead two minutes into the second half
‘I wanted to qualify for a major championship but leave Welsh football in a better state than when I took over, which wasn’t easy but it can definitely get better. Our quality on the ball needs to be better, but it’s a fantastic achievement.’
After three qualifying matches, Wales had only three points, but an impressive burst for the finishing line, claiming 11 points from a possible 15, saw Giggs’ men home. They will not be among the favourites next summer, but with stars like Gareth Bale, Ramsey – now seventh on Wales’ all-time scoring list – and Daniel James in their team, fans will dream of repeating their glorious march to the semi-finals of Euro 2016.
With spirits high, Bale turned the air blue on a television interview when joking about Ramsey’s absence, while the squad – including Bale – danced in front of a Welsh flag bearing the words ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In That Order.’ It is not hard to imagine what Bale’s bosses at Real will think of that.
Giggs’ deserves credit for his work in these last four games, from the success of Kieffer Moore in attack to the smart use of Bale and Ramsey, both short of full match fitness, in the final two games against Azerbaijan and Hungary.
For a short time, Hungary looked comfortable yet they could do nothing when Wales’ two most talented players combined to put them in front. Connor Roberts found Bale in space on the right, and he delivered the perfect cross for Ramsey – who had drifted away from his marker Adam Nagy – to head home from close range.
Gareth Bale looks for a way through the Hungary defence as Wales chase the victory they need to qualify for Euro 2020
Wigan striker Moore goes close to doubling the lead for Wales in the first-half but sees his header go wide of the far post
Welsh manager Ryan Giggs queries a refereeing decision with the fourth official during Tuesday night’s match
The Juventus midfielder slams the ball beyond Peter Gulacsi into the roof of the net for Wales’ second goal of the night
Wales’ players pile on top of goalscorer Ramsey after they doubled their lead in the must-win match in Cardiff
Moore should have made it two just before the half-hour mark, only to head another delightful cross from Bale just wide. Wales nearly paid for it five minutes later but stayed ahead thanks to superb work from Hennessey.
The Crystal Palace ‘keeper blocked Dominik Szoboszlai’s low drive from Adam Szalai’s knock-down, and then kept out the follow-up from Roland Sallai.
The second half started in bizarre fashion, with referee Ovidiu Hategan and his linesmen reappearing well after the players were ready to kick off – and Hungary were similarly late into their stride when the action resumed.
Moore miscued an attempted bicycle kick from Ben Davies’ free-kick on the left, but it fell perfectly for Ramsey, who lifted the ball calmly above Peter Gulacsi into the roof of the net. Wales had the breathing space they needed.
The Hungarians could not deal with Bale, Ramsey or James, and Bale nearly made it three with a free-kick from the edge of the box that went narrowly over. Then Ramsey was denied a hat-trick from just inside the box, Gulacsi saving with his foot after another thrilling run from James.
Ramsey didn’t care. Wales didn’t care. The party was about to start in Cardiff – and who knows how long it might last.
Bale whips a free-kick towards goal but sees his effort narrowly miss the target as Wales search for a third goal
Fans light a flare in the stands during Tuesday night’s all-important European Championship qualifier in Group E