Much of the pre-match hype had centred on the Team GB row, but Gary Speed’s Wales team ensured the post-match talk was all about the performance on the pitch after a convincing 4-1 victory over Norway on Saturday.
The win takes Wales’ tally to four wins in five games, and was the third in succession, against a team 21 places above them in the FIFA rankings. Speed had stressed ahead of this friendly that he was keen to choose opposition that would provide a stern test, although after watching his side cruise to a comfortable 2-0 lead after just 17 minutes, he must have wondered whether he had made the right decision.
Wales were sensational in the opening twenty minutes. With every player confident and comfortable on the ball, the passing was crisp and incisive and the attacking intent was evident. As Gareth Bale and Craig Bellamy terrorised Norway on each flank, it was only a matter of time before one of them would open the scoring.
In the 11th minute, Bale linked well with Steve Morison, beating the offside trap, before unleashing a fierce half-volley past the helpless Rune Jarstein in the Norway goal. Not to be outdone, just five minutes later, Bellamy picked up the ball in the middle of the park and ran at the Norwegian defence, before dropping his shoulder, cutting inside and firing a superb strike into the top corner of the net.
Wales were in total control but, as the half wore on, were guilty of allowing some complacency to slip into their play and Norway began to gain some momentum with Portsmouth player Erik Huseklepp in particular causing Adam Matthews, who started the game at left back in place of the injured Neil Taylor, some problems on the wing.
Wales managed to regroup and hold out until half-time but after the restart they were once more guilty of sitting deep, allowing Norway to dominate possession and play, although without creating any clear-cut goal-scoring opportunities. When the breakthrough did come, it was as a result of a calamitous error from keeper Wayne Hennessey who fumbled a routine catch which ricocheted off the heels of Andrew Crofts and into the path of the approaching Huseklepp who was presented with a routine tap in.
With Norway in the ascendency, manager Speed was noticeably more urgent on the touch line, but his players were struggling to get out of their own half, with the likes of Ramsey, who had started the match brightly, forced to drop increasingly deeper to receive the ball. Yet, as the game entered the final stages, Wales were able to find an extra gear and once more began to apply the pressure, with Bellamy’s pace in particular causing untold problems.
A perfectly placed through ball from Matthews freed the Liverpool striker but his crossed evaded any Welsh shirts in the box. Just minutes later, he picked up the ball following a Norway corner and surged forward but was unable to find Bale in the middle with his cross. A subsequent corner narrowly missed the three players waiting in the penalty area. It seemed only a matter of time before Wales would find the back of the net.
It was no surprise that when it did come, Bellamy and Bale were once again at the heart of the move. In a brilliantly worked team goal, Bellamy picked up the ball in the middle, before laying off the ball to Bale out wide who drove a low, hard cross across the face of goal for substitute Sam Vokes to tap home.
Vokes doubled his tally just moments later, latching onto a pass from Hal Robson-Kanu and drilling a low shot past the keeper from 25 yards out.
While the final score line flattered Wales somewhat, Speed will be delighted with this end to a what has proved a successful 2011 for his young squad.