Match ends, Wales 1, Slovakia 0.
Wales 1-0 Slovakia: Ryan Giggs' side begin qualifying campaign with win
Wales held on for victory against Slovakia in Cardiff to make a winning start to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
The hosts flew out of the blocks with attacking intent and led inside five minutes as Daniel James struck his first international goal with a bullet of a shot from 20 yards.
Wales had chances to extend their lead but risked squandering it against a resurgent Slovakia, for whom Albert Rusnak and Robert Mak both had shots saved by Wayne Hennessey.
The Wales goalkeeper then made a crucial intervention with eight minutes left as he palmed away Michal Duris' close-range header, before David Hancko missed the rebound as the visitors pressed for an equaliser.
Ryan Giggs' side, the second seeds in Group E, lived dangerously in the closing stages but they defended resolutely to cling on for what could prove to be a crucial win against Slovakia, the group's third seeds and potentially their main rivals for one of the two automatic qualifying places.
Slovakia and Croatia, the top seeds, had already started their campaigns with victories - over Hungary and Azerbaijan respectively - so Wales move level with them on three points. Hungary also have three points, after they shocked World Cup runners-up Croatia 2-1 later on Sunday.
Wales' dream start
This was a significant result for Wales, who are aiming to rekindle the magic of Euro 2016 and that epic run to the semi-finals after a 58-year absence from major tournaments.
Giggs had described his mixed first year in charge as a "free hit", an opportunity to experiment, knowing he would be judged on this qualifying campaign.
Under his guidance, Wales have evolved in an attacking sense - with their new manager placing a strong emphasis on youth and pace - but that has occasionally been at the expense of defensive stability.
In some ways, this match was a snapshot of Giggs' tenure so far, as Wales poured forward with wild abandon, albeit at times leaving themselves exposed at the back.
Giggs stuck to his guns with another bold team selection, dropping captain Ashley Williams in favour of Anderlecht's James Lawrence and handing a first competitive start to Swansea City's rapid winger and rising star James.
The 21-year-old set the tone for a purposeful Welsh start as he, David Brooks, Harry Wilson and stand-in skipper Gareth Bale switched positions to create a fluid frontline, which tormented the Slovakian defence with speed and direct running.
Three were involved in the opening goal as Wilson deftly flicked the ball to Brooks, who drove towards the Slovakian backline and, although he lost possession, Peter Pekarik dithered on the ball and had his pocket picked by James, who smashed it past Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka from the edge of the area.
Wales attacked their opponents at will, with Brooks twice firing wide - but it was far from one-way traffic, as Slovakia enjoyed long spells of possession and worked their way into promising positions as the first half wore on.
Wales resist Slovakia's revival
The warning signs were there for Wales, and they were fortunate not to concede an equaliser when Mak threaded a through ball to Rusnak, whose shot was well smothered by Hennessey.
Mak himself then had a shot which Hennessey held, prompting roars of encouragement from the travelling supporters and spreading a nagging sense of apprehension among the home crowd.
The match was delicately poised, with a pervading feeling that Wales needed to take one of their chances if they were to survive this Slovakian revival.
Giggs' side still looked threatening when they attacked, with James their likeliest source of a goal.
The winger set off on another of his jet-heeled forays into the Slovakian half, leaving defenders trailing in his wake before squaring the ball to Wilson, whose shot went narrowly wide.
Things were starting to get a little nervy for Wales, who brought on centre-back Williams in place of James in an attempt to bolster their defence for the closing stages.
Welsh hearts were in mouths when Duris headed firmly towards goal, only for Hennessey to instinctively palm it away, thankful to see Hancko miscue his effort on the rebound.
Wales flooded their own penalty area with bodies as they looked to repel Slovakia's increasingly desperate balls into the box, and the hosts' determination won out as they landed a significant early blow against one of their chief rivals for an automatic qualifying place.
Man of the match - Daniel James (Wales)
'Some of the play was fantastic' - what they said
Wales manager Ryan Giggs, speaking to Sky Sports: "I tried to play it down because I knew other teams played first but you do feel the pressure. There were so many outstanding performances and we dug in at the end to get that clean sheet.
"In the first half we showed real composure. We rode our luck a little bit in the second half and I thought we could have scored a few more in the first but some of the play was fantastic, paired with great determination.
"We have got a great group of older players and younger players. I wanted clean sheets. We have got a lot of talent in the squad too so we will always create chances."
Wales goalscorer Daniel James: "It was a good start after we got that early goal. From then on, we had to dig in. The only thing I had in my head was to shoot and luckily it went in.
"In the second half they had a lot of the ball but we got the win in the end."
Wales winger Gareth Bale: "Everyone put in a shift today. It's what we are used to. The minimum requirement is to put in 110% and everyone did that.
"We built our success off a good solid defence. We work hard in units. We always knew we could nick a goal. In the second half we came under a lot of pressure but we started the game well, got the early goal, then shut up shop and we know how to do that.
"We have given the fans another win and it was a good start to the qualifying campaign. We need to keep that going."
Wales' record of starting strongly continues - the best stats
- Wales have now won their opening match in their past three major tournament qualifying competitions.
- Slovakia are winless in their past seven away games in all competitions (D1 L6) since a 2-1 win in Lithuania in June 2017.
- Wales have won consecutive matches in all competitions for the first time since a run of three in October 2017 under Chris Coleman.
- Daniel James scored just five minutes into his competitive debut for Wales, with the Dragons' earliest goal in a competitive fixture since March 2007 (Ryan Giggs vs San Marino, three minutes).
- Gareth Bale had six shots in this game - his most without finding the net in a home match for Wales since October 2014 (10 vs Cyprus).
- Ashley Williams made his 85th appearance for Wales - only Chris Gunter (94) and Neville Southall (92) have played more games for the Dragons.
- 16H WilsonSubstituted forVaulksat 87'minutes
- 7AllenBooked at 53mins
- 20JamesSubstituted forWilliamsat 73'minutes
- 10BrooksBooked at 60minsSubstituted forRobertsat 60'minutes
- 2PekaríkSubstituted forSafrankoat 90'minutes
- 3VavroBooked at 31mins
- 19KuckaBooked at 90mins
- 22LobotkaBooked at 41mins
- 17HamsikBooked at 86mins
- 8DudaSubstituted forDurisat 65'minutesBooked at 69mins
- 20MakBooked at 15minsSubstituted forStochat 69'minutesBooked at 90mins
- Felix Zwayer
- Shots on Target
Juraj Kucka (Slovakia) is shown the yellow card.
Second Half ends, Wales 1, Slovakia 0.
Corner, Slovakia. Conceded by Chris Mepham.
Attempt blocked. Miroslav Stoch (Slovakia) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Juraj Kucka.
Miroslav Stoch (Slovakia) is shown the yellow card.
Hand ball by Michal Duris (Slovakia).
Attempt blocked. Ben Davies (Wales) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Substitution, Slovakia. Pavol Safranko replaces Peter Pekarík.
Attempt blocked. Will Vaulks (Wales) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Attempt blocked. Gareth Bale (Wales) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Wayne Hennessey.
Attempt missed. Juraj Kucka (Slovakia) left footed shot from the centre of the box is high and wide to the left.
Substitution, Wales. Will Vaulks replaces Harry Wilson.
Marek Hamsik (Slovakia) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Marek Hamsik (Slovakia).
Tyler Roberts (Wales) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Attempt missed. Peter Pekarík (Slovakia) header from the right side of the six yard box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Marek Hamsik with a cross.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match David Hancko (Slovakia) because of an injury.
Attempt missed. Juraj Kucka (Slovakia) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Peter Pekarík with a cross.