Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale scored as Wales celebrated reaching next year’s European Championship by defeating minnows Andorra 2-0 in Cardiff in their final qualifying match on Tuesday.
Wales had qualified for their first major tournament in 57 years on Saturday when they lost 2-0 away to Bosnia-Herzegovina but Cyprus’s 2-1 win in Israel guaranteed them a place in the top two in Group B.
Second-half goals from Ramsey and Bale — his seventh of the campaign — got the qualification party started at the Cardiff City Stadium and ensured that Chris Coleman’s men signed off on a winning note.
“They were labelled the ‘golden generation’ before they’d earned it. Now they’ve earned it,” said manager Coleman, whose players cavorted beneath a shower of tickertape and champagne on the pitch after the game.
“They deserve it. You get team spirit from working hard for each other on the pitch and coming through tough situations and big challenges, and they’ve done it time after time.”
Belgium’s 3-1 win over Israel prevented Wales from reclaiming first place in the group, but after more than half a century in the international wilderness, there were few in the 34,000 sell-out crowd who cared.
Real Madrid star Bale will do something former team-mate Ryan Giggs never did when he leads his team into battle in France next year, which will be Wales’ first major tournament appearance since the 1958 World Cup.
“We’ve put the hard work in for years and years and this is what we’ve worked hard for,” a beaming Bale told Sky Sports.
“It’s time to enjoy it, but as soon as France comes round, we’ll be looking to make an impact.
“It’s something special. The fans, what can I say? We have the best fans in the world. Obviously a great thanks to the gaffer (Coleman) and everybody involved. We’re looking forward to the future.”
Bale netted his seventh goal of the qualifying campaign
There was a festive atmosphere at kick-off in the Welsh capital, but a head injury to visiting midfielder Victor Moreira put an early dampener on proceedings.
The Andorra number 17 was left prone on the turf following a clash of heads with James Chester and after seven minutes of treatment he was taken off on a stretcher, with Gabriel Riera replacing him.
Showing four changes from the famous night in Zenica and jettisoning their usual 3-5-2 formation in favour of a new-look 4-3-3, Wales quickly took the game by the jugular.
Bale, Wales’ talisman throughout the campaign, menaced with a pair of free-kicks and had a rasping drive parried by goalkeeper Ferran Pol, who also had to tip a header from his own defender Max Llovera over the bar and claw a header by Ramsey out from beneath his crossbar.
The hosts lost Hal Robson-Kanu to an apparent ankle injury mid-way through the first half and his replacement, Dave Edwards, lasted only until half-time after sustaining a groin problem, enabling Tom Lawrence of Leicester City to make his debut.
But Wales would not be denied and broke through in the 50th minute when Ashley Williams’ header from Bale’s in-swinging cross was pushed out by Pol and Ramsey followed in to slam home his 10th international goal.
Ramsey could have had a second on the hour, but after jinking past four defenders, his left-foot shot rolled agonisingly wide of the right-hand post.
The Arsenal man also teed up Williams for a header that was saved at point-blank range by Pol, before Bale swept home Ben Davies’ low cross four minutes from time.
It was a fitting end to a qualifying campaign that had begun with Bale scoring twice in a narrow 2-1 win in Andorra and proved the precursor to joyous celebrations after the final whistle.