Albania 1-0 Wales: Ryan Giggs’ side suffer friendly defeat as Bekim Balaj penalty earns victory for hosts
- Albania failed to register a shot during a dull first 45 minutes of the friendly
- Harry Wilson then bundled over attacker in the box to give hosts a penalty
- It was duly converted by Bekim Balaj and Albania went ahead against run of play
- Ryan Giggs brought on Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey in bid to change game
- Chris Gunter captained Wales to celebrate becoming record cap holder with 93
Wales crashed to an embarrassing defeat as Albania ruined Chris Gunter’s big night at the Elbasan Arena.
Gunter captained his country to celebrate becoming Wales’ record cap holder with 93 and surpassing Neville Southall’s previous best.
It should have been an evening of celebration, but instead Wales were made to pay for their failure to convert first-half chances.
Bekim Balaj celebrated with his team-mates after Albania took an unexpected lead
There was a healthy contingent of travelling Wales fans in attendance for the game
Ryan Giggs was unhappy with his side’s lack of cutting edge in a goal-less first half
Chris Gunter (right) became Wales’ most capped player but the captain’s celebrations went flat
Ryan Giggs’ side didn’t have the rub of the green from referee Dejan Jakimovksi. Albania were lucky not to go down to 10 men and Wales should have had a second-half penalty, but instead a spot-kick of his own from Albania’s Bekim Balaj proved the difference between the teams.
It all represented a nightmare result for both Gunter and his manager.
Wales boss Giggs had risked the anger of Real Madrid by bringing Gareth Bale on a 3,000-mile round trip and he then left his best player on the bench alongside Aaron Ramsey and Ashley Williams.
Berisha, Ismajli, Mavraj, Veseli, Uzuni, Basha, Lila (Memushaj), Xhaka, Hysaj, Grezda (Lilaj), Balaj
Kaja ,Vrioni, Kastrati, Ademi, Dermaku, Kace, Gavazaj, Strakosha
Bookings: Xhaka, Lila
Goals: Balaj (58, pen)
Ward, Roberts (Freeman), Lockyer, Lawrence, Gunter, King, Allen (Ramsey), Brooks (Bale), Wilson, James (Woodburn), Vokes (Matondo)
Hennessey, Williams, Thomas, Roberts, Lawrence, Davies, Woodburn
Bookings: King, Gunter, Wilson, Bale
Referee: Dejan Jakimovksi (MKD)
Gunter skippered Wales from left back. Leicester’s Andy King – yet to play a minute for the Foxes this season – won his 50th cap in midfield while James Lawrence and Swansea’s Dan James made their full international debuts.
James’ first full season at Swansea has seen him excel and he created Wales’ first chance when his left-foot cross was headed over by Sam Vokes.
David Brooks had a shot deflected wide and Harry Wilson put a free-kick into the side netting while Brooks was only denied by a fine sliding tackle from Ardian Ismajli. Brooks has been in fine form for Bournemouth in the Premier League this season, but he could have had a first-half hat-trick.
He went close again as he nodded Wilson’s cross just wide. Albania were limited in attack and their only threat came when Taulant Xhaka – brother of Arsenal’s Granit – had a set-piece headed clear by Vokes.
Then came a moment of controversy. Brooks had led Albania a merry dance and just before the break he was felled by Xhaka who reacted needlessly and seemed to headbutt his opponent.
Gareth Bale came off the bench for Wales in the second half and showed off his direct running
Frederic Veseli (right) clears his lines under pressure from Connor Roberts at the back
It should have been red, but Jakimovski decided the offence was only worthy of a booking as the two teams went to the break level after a tame Vokes effort.
Xhaka had reacted for what he saw as Brooks leading with his elbow on the floor after the two had collided, but the second period began with Wales attacking their hardy travelling contingent.
Half-time rain worsened the surface and didn’t help Wales’ passing game. Giggs responded by introducing Ramsey and Ben Woodburn for Joe Allen and James as Bale warmed up on the sideline to the delight of the away support. Jakimovski then infuriated Wales further.
Xhaka went to ground in the box under pressure from Wilson. It looked soft and the Derby man insinuated the Albanian had dived. Still, the referee pointed to the spot and Balaj slammed home the penalty.
Adrian Ismajli (left) and Andi Lila (centre) battle David Brooks for the ball in the first half
Burnley forward Sam Vokes plants his head on the ball as he looks to hold up play
Wales were denied a penalty for what appeared to be a clear foul in the box by Migjen Basha
Giggs responded by immediately introducing Bale for Brooks, but Myrto Uzuni came close to an Albanian second. Wales were then denied a penalty by Jakimovski. Wilson ran clear in the box and was felled by Migjen Basha.
It looked a clear and obvious foul, but the Macedonian official waved away Welsh appeals for a spot kick much to Giggs’ frustration on the sidelines.
Uzuni should have put the game to bed but fired over and Bale appealed for another Welsh penalty for a pass back.
Giggs introduced Manchester City youngster Rabbi Matondo for his Wales debut in search of an equaliser, but a goal failed to arrive and although this was a friendly, defeat represented the worst result of the Manchester United legend’s Welsh tenure to date.
Rabbi Matondo (left) showed glimpses of his pace when he came off the bench late on
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