Daniel James’s superb goal enough to earn Wales victory over Belarus

Stuart James at Cardiff City Stadium on 9 September 2019

At the age of 21 it seems early to talk about a player scoring a trademark goal but Daniel James is already making a name for himself with his ability to cut in from the left and steer the ball effortlessly into the opposite corner. Manchester United supporters have witnessed a couple of goals that fit that description and there was another here on Monday as James continued his excellent start to the new campaign.

The winger has now scored four times in six matches for club and country this season and it was just a shame that his latest effort was witnessed by so few people. Only 7,666 turned up on a miserable evening in Cardiff – the second-lowest attendance for an international game here – and the rows of empty seats made for a strange backdrop as the Wales players ran to congratulate James.

That goal proved the defining moment of this friendly international, although the narrow scoreline flattered Belarus as Wales dominated for long periods. Harry Wilson hit the upright with a curling effort from wide on the right and Gareth Bale, who replaced James early in the second half, missed a sitter.

James was nothing like as forgiving. It was a terrific finish, dispatched from a similar position to the goals that he scored for United against Crystal Palace and Southampton this season, and drew applause from Bale in the Wales dugout.

From the moment James shaped to strike the ball, there never seemed any doubt in his mind that he would score. His confidence is sky high.

“Early on when I saw DJ, just like any young winger, there can be that improvement in the final ball and scoring more goals. And he’s done that and he’s doing that,” Ryan Giggs, the Wales manager, said.

“To do what he’s done at the start of the season is amazing. The next step is that consistency, which he’s shown so far and he needs to carry on. But I’ve got no doubt that will happen, because he wants to be the best, he’s a great character and a great trainer. He wanted to play tonight.”

Joe Morrell, who impressed on his debut in the centre of the Wales midfield, started the move that led to the breakthrough by winning possession deep inside his own half and shifting the ball on to Jonny Williams. James, breaking on the left, was the obvious pass and Williams duly released the winger about 25 yards from goal. After taking one touch to control the ball and another to tee it up, James expertly opened his body and curled a beautiful right-foot shot from the edge of the area beyond Maksim Plotnikov, the Belarus goalkeeper, and into the far corner.

“He’s one of those players where you know what he’s going to do but you can’t stop it,” Giggs said.

There was good news elsewhere for Giggs. Azerbaijan, whom Wales defeated on Friday courtesy of a late goal from Bale, held Croatia, the Group E leaders, to a 1-1 draw, and Hungary, who had been in second place, lost at home against Slovakia. “It’s not too bad,” Giggs said. “But we’ve got to look after ourselves.”

Wales’s next group games are in Slovakia on 10 October before a home game three days later against Croatia.

The victory would have been more convincing here had Bale not passed up that chance. Wilson, running on to a quickly taken Ben Davies free-kick, crossed from the left and Bale, eight yards out and with the goal yawning invitingly in front of him, somehow blazed over.

“We can forgive him after the winning goal on Friday,” Giggs said.

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