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Bale proves the difference as Wales beats Slovakia 2-1
By DANIELLA MATAR
BORDEAUX, France (AP) Two weeks on from winning the Champions League for the second time in three seasons with Real Madrid, Gareth Bale played a pivotal role as Wales made a triumphant return to a major competition following a 58-year absence.
It was Bale who put Wales ahead in the 10th minute with a curling free kick and who was the driving force behind much of his team's attacking intent in its 2-1 victory on Saturday against Slovakia in a Group B match at the European Championship.
His coach Chris Coleman was fulsome in his praise of the 26-year-old.
"Everyone will look at his goal, and he's fast and powerful, but some of his best moments were at the end of the game when we were 2-1 and his intelligence," Coleman said. "He was basically heading the ball out of play to waste time. That's just football intelligence, it's not pretty, but he does anything for the three points, for the win for Wales."
Coleman said Bale understands exactly what's required of him and "he delivers that and what comes of that is three million people Welsh people absolutely loving him to pieces. He deserves all that."
How far Wales can go in its first tournament since the 1958 World Cup, where it made the quarterfinals only to lose to a sole strike from Brazil's 17-year-old Pele will likely also hinge on Bale.
"On a personal note it's great to get the goals but as I've said before it really doesn't matter who gets the goals," Bale said. "We just want the points, we want the wins, we want to go as far as we can in this tournament ... As I've said many a time, it's about the team, not about individuals."
Though Bale was the focus of much of Slovakia's pre-match planning, it was a substitute who actually secured Wales' victory. Hal Robson-Kanu's scuffed shot in the 81st minute restored his team's lead after another substitute, Ondrej Duda, had equalized for Slovakia with his first involvement in the 61st.
Martin Skrtel, Slovakia's captain, said his team knew what they had to deal with but that Bale's undoubted class was a big difference between the sides.
"You know the key if you play against him, you know his skill in the free kick and you cannot make the fouls around the box and we made one," Skrtel said. "He showed his class in that situation. Obviously he's a world class player and it showed on the pitch."
Slovakia had periods in the game when it was dominant, notably at the start of the match when it almost took the lead as soon as the third minute when Marek Hamsik's effort was cleared off the line by an excellent sliding interception from defender Ben Davies. And Slovakia almost snatched an equalizer when substitute Adam Nemec's header hit the post with four minutes remaining.
Wales plays England next on Thursday in Lens, while Slovakia meets Russia the day before in Lille.
"We'll enjoy these moments in this competition if we do what we did today," Coleman said. "We just need to concentrate on Wales. We don't need to fear anyone, we don't fear anyone. We'll concentrate on ourselves because we know if we get our game right it's enough to get what we need to progress in the tournament."
Updated June 11, 2016