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Page last updated at 15:52 GMT, Saturday, 6 September 2008 16:52 UK

Wales 1-0 Azerbaijan

By Peter Shuttleworth

Sam Vokes celebrates his late Wales winner
Vokes's strike ensured Wales started their campaign with a win

Teenage striker Sam Vokes saved Wales' blushes as his late winner secured an unconvincing victory in their opening World Cup qualifier over Azerbaijan.

The 18-year-old opened his Welsh goal account when his country needed him most as he hooked home in the 83rd minute at the Millennium Stadium.

Vokes raced to Wales' rescue as Group Four minnows Azerbaijan had looked set to humiliate John Toshack's team.

Wales' Jason Koumas had earlier missed a penalty against the ten-man Azeri.

Hardly 18,000 fans were scattered around the 74,000-capacity Millennium Stadium and Wales' frustrating performance in Cardiff would do little to attract new friends.

Wales certainly did it the hard way but super-sub Vokes at least earned Wales boss Toshack three points against a side they dared not lose to.

Vokes' late, late show saved Toshack from one of the most embarrassing results in Welsh football's recent history as the Wolves striker swept Bale's corner past defiant Azerbaijan goalkeeper Kamran Agaev from close-range.

Agaev had earlier saved Jason Koumas' awful penalty and Fabio Luis Ramim was dismissed after receiving two yellow cards.

Toshack had made no secret of his desire for a good start on the road to South Africa but it was the supposed whipping boys of Group Four who surprised the hosts.

Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey needed to be at full stretch to palm Branimir Subasic's 25-yard shot round the post before the Azerbaijan striker scared Wales again.

The Red Star Belgrade man skipped past two half-hearted lunges before Subasic let fly but his shot just whizzed over the bar.

Jason Koumas shows his despair following his penalty miss
When Wales were gifted a gilt-edged opportunity, Koumas, so often Wales' talisman, failed when it mattered most

Sluggish Wales were shocked into life and had a penalty claim shrugged off after Gareth Bale had surged into the box only to be stopped, he felt, unfairly - but referee Aleksandar Stavrev disagreed.

Bale's defensive colleague Chris Gunter, however, should have broken the deadlock in the 27th minute but the Tottenham full-back was denied by a last-ditch interception.

Bale's teasing inswinging free-kick was spilled by Azeri stopper Agaev but Gunter could not capitalise on the error as the Azerbaijan defence managed to hack the ball to safety.

Agaev was thankful for his defence saving him but two minutes later the roles were reversed as the Azerbaijan 'keeper made a stunning flying save to fingertip Koumas' 30-yard curling shot around his left-hand upright.

Wolves midfielder Dave Edwards, enjoying a rare start, went close with a dipping effort at the end of a disappointing first-half for Wales where the hosts lacked penetration, urgency and a cutting edge.

Rampaging right-back Gunter was hacked down Rashad Sadygov in the penalty area and ref Stavrev had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

Koumas could have saved his side's blushes instead his weak 66th minute penalty was palmed out by Agaev and the Azeri 'keeper ensured his place as a national hero as he saved Koumas' equally inept rebound.

Azerbaijan boss Berti Vogts was then dreaming of escaping from his first competitive game in charge with a rare point for Azerbaijan.

But the visitors' cause was not helped when they were reduced to ten men when danger man Fabio Luis Ramim was sent off for a second bookable offence.


The Brazilian-born Ramim had earlier been booked for elbowing Bale and was shown the red card in the 68th minute for holding back Koumas.

Vokes replaced Wolverhampton Wanderers team-mate Edwards and he wasted little time in showing his potential threat as Agaev needed to be at his best to push Vokes' looping header over.

But from Bale's resulting corner, Vokes made himself a hero as he cracked home the loose ball after fellow teenager substitute Ched Evans had made a nuisance of himself in the box.

Toshack will be eternally grateful to Vokes' goal-poaching ability but this is a stern wake-up for Wales call before their tough midweek trip to Euro 2008 semi-finalists Russia.

Wales: Hennessey, Gunter, Morgan, Ashley Williams, Bale, Davies, Fletcher, Edwards (Vokes 72), Ledley, Koumas (Robinson 88), Earnshaw (Ched Evans 62).
Subs Not Used: Myhill, Steve Evans, Parry, Ricketts.

Booked: Bale, Koumas.

Goals: Vokes 83.

Azerbaijan: Arhayev, Melikov, Bahshiev, Yunis Oglu, Huseynov (Nabiyev 45), Samir Abbasov, Subashic, Sadygov, Nodar Mammadov (Nduka 76), Elvin Mammadov, Ramim.
Subs Not Used: Mehdiev, Shukurov, Gurbanov, Javadov, Gomes.

Sent Off: Ramim (68).Booked: Bahshiev, Ramim, Sadygov, Samir Abbasov, Arhayev.

Att: 17,106

Referee: Aleksandar Stavrev (FYR Macedonia).

BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Wales' Gareth Bale 8.56 (on 90 minutes).

Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.

see also
Koumas poised to miss Moscow trip
06 Sep 08 |  Internationals
Player Rater
06 Sep 08 |  Internationals
World Cup qualifiers as they happened
06 Sep 08 |  Internationals
World Cup qualifying photos
06 Sep 08 |  Football
Pick your Wales XI
05 Feb 07 |  Internationals
International tables
26 Nov 07 |  Tables
Wales' international fixtures
22 Aug 07 |  Internationals
Wales' results archive
10 Oct 05 |  Internationals
BBC Sport Wales coverage
23 Mar 08 |  Wales

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