Second-half goals from Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale ensured Wales ended their triumphant Euro 2016 qualifying run with a 2-0 Group B victory over Andorra.
Wales’ progress to a first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup was confirmed on Saturday, despite a 2-0 loss to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
A capacity crowd gathered in Cardiff, hoping for a return more befitting of their heroes’ achievement, but Chris Coleman’s team were frustrated by Andorra during a goalless first half.
Bale schemed relentlessly in his attempts to unpick the minnows’ dogged defence, while goalkeeper Ferran Pol impressed.
Ramsey pounced to get the party started in the 50th minute and Bale fittingly snared his seventh goal of a talismanic qualifying campaign four minutes from time.
Belgium ensured they finished top of the group with a 3-1 victory over Israel – a statistic that mattered little in the Welsh capital as the celebratory strains of ‘Bread of Heaven’ boomed around the stands before full-time.
The feel-good atmosphere inside the Cardiff City Stadium was punctured in the fifth minute when a sickening clash of heads between James Chester and Victor Moreira left the Andorra midfielder prone on the turf.
Moreira left the field on a stretcher following a lengthy period of treatment, after which the visitors had to repel a predictable threat.
Bale collected Sam Vokes’ lay-off to thrash a shot across goal from the left-hand corner of the box – Pol responding with a fine save.
The Real Madrid star was then cynically scythed down by Ildefonso Lima, the defender booked for his troubles, before sending an 18th-minute free-kick narrowly wide.
David Edwards replaced ankle-injury victim Hal Robson-Kanu as the half reached its midway point and the Wolves midfielder had a close-range header cleared off the line by Lima shortly after his introduction.
Pol was at full stretch to tip over and spare Max Llovera the embarrassment of heading into his own net and the keeper tipped a flicked Ramsey header onto the crossbar as Andorra approached the break under relentless pressure.
Tom Lawrence came on for his Wales debut at the interval in place of Edwards, but Bale was the architect when the opening goal arrived.
Having been struck by a botched Andorran clearance, Bale flighted a cross from the right for Ashley Williams to draw another stop from Pol before Ramsey slammed home the rebound from close range.
The Arsenal midfielder almost added a more accomplished second as the hour approached, slaloming through a clutch of Andorra challenges before dragging his eventual shot wide.
Pol’s yellow card for timewasting at 1-0 down demonstrated the limited scope of his team’s ambition, while the direct dribbling of Ramsey and Bale caused increasing trouble for weary opponents.
Having tirelessly led the line, Vokes sent his latest headed attempt off target in the 72nd minute and the Burnley striker fluffed his lines when Pol spilt a Williams effort.
Vokes’ personal frustrations continued, but Bale extinguished his by swivelling to slam a low shot beyond Pol and lap up a hero’s acclaim.
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