Bale winner puts Dragons three points clear

Gareth Bale marked his 50th international appearance by scoring a priceless winner as Wales took a giant stride towards qualifying for Euro 2016 by beating Belgium 1-0 at the Cardiff City Stadium.

Not since the 1958 World Cup have Wales featured in a major tournament, but they enhanced their chances of ending that long wait on Friday by securing a victory that moved them three points clear at the top of Group B with four games remaining.

Bale has had to contend with criticism for his form at Real Madrid this season, but the forward can do no wrong for his country and took his tally in qualification to five with the only goal of the game in the first half.

The former Tottenham man capitalised on a dreadful mistake from Radja Nainggolan to put Wales in front and Belgium were unable to respond despite putting the home side under intense pressure.

Chris Coleman described the game between the top two in the group as the biggest of his career and it proved to be an occasion to savour for the Wales manager.

Belgium, on the other hand, suffered their first defeat since losing to Argentina in a World Cup quarter-final almost a year ago and Marc Wilmots’ side subsequently slip to second in the group.

James Chester and Jazz Richards replaced injured duo James Collins and Ben Davies in the Wales starting line-up.

Kevin De Bruyne came in for the injured Marouane Fellaini in the only change to the Belgium side that started Sunday’s 4-3 friendly win over France.

Belgium started like a side full of confidence and Wayne Hennessey produced a fine save after 10 minutes, diving to his left to keep out Nainggolan’s measured strike after the midfielder had exchanged passes with Dries Mertens.

Eden Hazard then blazed high over the crossbar when the ball fell kindly for him inside the area following another brisk Belgium attack.

Wales were struggling to pose any sort of attacking threat, but were gifted the lead after 25 minutes courtesy of a moment to forget for Nainggolan.

The Roma man failed to spot Bale when he attempted to head back to Thibaut Courtois and the Real Madrid forward showed great composure to control the ball on his chest before slotting under the Belgium goalkeeper.

Courtois then produced a great save to deny Aaron Ramsey and Hal Robson-Kanu fired narrowly wide when he had little time to react after Toby Alderweireld failed to clear as Wales grew in confidence.

Romelu Lukaku replaced Mertens at the break and Belgium made a blistering start to the second half, with Christian Benteke stabbing just over the crossbar after Wales failed to deal with a corner.

De Bruyne then showed lovely footwork to outwit two Wales defenders before unleashing a shot that flew narrowly wide of the right post.

Jan Vertonghen failed to make contact after arriving at the back post in the 79th minute when yet another Belgium corner caused all kinds of problems in the Wales penalty area, and the Tottenham defender’s chance proved to be his side’s last.

Bale was given a standing ovation when he came off with cramp three minutes from time and Wales then held on for a famous win to spark jubilant scenes.