Wales made the last eight of Euro 2016 as an own goal from Northern Ireland’s Gareth McAuley settled a tense game in Paris.
It came as Northern Ireland, who had fought and harried for their lives, were within 15 minutes of taking the game to extra time, but punished for switching off for a split second.Aaron Ramsey found Bale in space he had craved all day, and he made the most of it with a perfect ball into the box between McAuley and goalkeeper Michael McGovern.McAuley had to intervene with the substitute Hal Robson-Kanu lurking behind, but his touch from a few yards out was a fatal one for Northern Ireland.
Manager Michael O’Neill recalled Kyle Lafferty after the striker who had scored seven goals in nine qualifiers had been omitted from the final two group games.Northern Ireland crowded Bale every time he had the ball, yet the Real Madrid forward still found space to deliver a cross which Ramsey poked at harmlessly.
With Bale shackled – incredibly Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey completed more first-half passes than he did – Ramsey looked their most dangerous attacking option with his runs from deep.Ramsey had the ball in the net after 19 minutes when Sam Vokes climbed above Jonny Evans and headed down Neil Taylor’s cross but the offside flag was correctly raised.
It was a rare moment of promise for a Wales attack which had finished the group stages as joint top scorers with six goals but were being frustrated at every turn by organised opponents.And Wales had another warning when Ward chanced his arm from 20 yards to produce a fingertip save from Hennessey.
A few crosses were swung over but they were often hit beyond the waiting Lafferty.The changes were working, Ramsey was probing, Bale eventually found space and McAuley’s touch proved the difference.