CARDIFF: Wales manager Ryan Giggs enjoyed a memorable first home match in charge as they thrashed Ireland 4-1 in the inaugural UEFA Nations League at a rocking Cardiff City Stadium on Thursday.
Wales had not beaten Ireland for 26 years, never in a competitive fixture and had scored only twice in their last seven meetings but ended that jinx during a spectacular opening 45 minutes in which Tom Lawrence and Aaron Ramsey scored either side of a classic Gareth Bale strike.
Connor Roberts made it 4-0 soon after the break and even Ireland’s consolation scored by Shaun Williams was drowned out by a chorus of Welsh anthems echoing around the stadium.
In Giggs’s first two matches in charge, resurgent Wales have scored 10 times after he began his reign with a 6-0 victory in a friendly in China.
Wales, who are in League B in the new competition which largely replaces friendlies and offers a potential route to the Euro 2020 finals, will face a sterner test on Sunday when they face Denmark away in Group B4.
But they will go there in high spirits with Giggs having quickly put his dynamic stamp on a side blending experience with exciting young talents such as Chelsea centre back Ethan Ampadu.
“The lads were magnificent, some brilliant goals and great football. I can’t be much happier,” Giggs, who played 64 times for Wales, told Sky Sports.
“It’s been intense as you don’t get much time on the grass — some of them were playing on Sunday. The problem is now they’ve set the standard, they have to stay there.
“I enjoyed the performance and the goals but you always think you can do better. There were mistakes.”
Playing with the kind of pace and verve Giggs was noted for throughout his illustrious Manchester United playing career, Wales tore Martin O’Neill’s sorry Ireland side to shreds.
Lawrence opened the scoring after six minutes, rifling a ferocious shot past Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph after being played in by Joe Allen at the end of a sweeping move.
Twelve minutes later, it was 2-0 as Bale took a long Ben Davies pass on his chest before cutting in from the right and curling a left-footed beauty beyond Randolph.
Wales continued to dominate and scored again in the 37th minute as 17-year-old Ampadu nicked possession and surged forward before played a slide rule pass for Aaron Ramsey to finish inside the near post.
Roberts volleyed in from 20 metres for the fourth goal before a defensive mistake — the one blip on a night of Welsh joy — allowed Williams to salvage a little Irish pride.
Impressive as Wales were, an injury-weakened Ireland were awful and it made for tough viewing for O’Neill who got to within a playoff defeat by Denmark of steering Ireland into this year’s World Cup finals.
“I think we’re unable to be missing five or six Premier League players and put on a big show,” said O’Neill, who was without the likes of Stoke City winger James McClean and Southampton striker Shane Long.