By Dafydd Pritchard | BBC Sport |
Ryan Giggs started his reign as Wales manager in spectacular style with Gareth Bale scoring a hat-trick in a 6-0 thrashing of China to become the nation’s leading goalscorer.
The Real Madrid forward, whose every touch was cheered by an enthralled home crowd, put Wales ahead inside three minutes with a fine run and finish clipped into the top corner.
Bale slotted in a second soon after to move level with Ian Rush’s mark of 28, before Sam Vokes’ deft flick and Harry Wilson’s excellent whipped effort on his 21st birthday gave the visitors a 4-0 half-time lead.
Vokes added his second and Wales’ fifth after the break, and then Bale sealed his hat-trick and surpassed Rush’s milestone with an assured low finish to complete the rout.
Giggs’ men will now play in Monday’s final of the China Cup friendly tournament, against the winner of the second semi-final between Uruguay and the Czech Republic on Friday.
Wales’ Giggs era begins with a bang
The significance of this job to Giggs was evident when he described his appointment as the “proudest moment” of his life, no mean feat for a man who won 13 Premier League titles, two Champions League crowns and four FA Cups among others in a prodigiously successful playing career.
He also said he was more nervous about starting his managerial career in earnest – after four matches in temporary charge of Manchester United in 2014 – than he ever was as a player for United and Wales.
Amid the pride and trepidation, there was also excitement at inheriting the finest generation of players in Wales’ history, having reached a first semi-final at a major tournament at Euro 2016.
And although they were faced with feeble opposition, Giggs’ charges demonstrated their attacking potential with a potent display.
Bale was the game’s outstanding player but that was nothing new for Wales. What might have been equally encouraging for the new manager was the emergence of lesser-celebrated squad members.
Rangers left-back and winger Declan John was sprightly on his return to the team after a near-four-year absence, while midfielder Wilson – on loan at Hull City from Liverpool – was making his first start since becoming Wales’ youngest player at 16 years old with a substitute appearance against Belgium in 2013.
The 21-year-old had not played for Wales since then, and capped an impressive individual display in Nanning with a superb first international goal and a neat assist for Vokes’ second.
Bale creates history
Bale was greeted by hordes of adoring fans when he arrived at Nanning Airport on Tuesday, and the reverence extended to the opening fixture of the China Cup.
The Chinese supporters at Guangxi Sports Center – a 60,000-seater stadium which was a little over half full with an attendance of 36,533 – applauded enthusiastically and gasped in awe whenever the 28-year-old was in possession.
Bale’s first goal was a vintage effort of his, dribbling past two players and, despite being off balance, found the top corner with a curling shot.
The strike was met with a standing ovation from the home crowd, who were equally enthused when Bale rolled in his second to move level with Rush’s record.
With injuries hampering his season so far, some might have expected the former Tottenham forward to have been substituted at half-time – but there was no denying him his moment of history.
Picking up possession inside the China penalty area, Bale took a touch and struck firmly into the bottom corner before running to the travelling Wales fans to celebrate his record.