Wales ensured they still have a realistic chance of reaching the knock-out stages of Euro 2020 as they drew 1-1 with Switzerland in their opening game.
The Dragons fell behind just four minutes into the second half as Breel Embolo nodded in from a corner, having won the set piece with a brilliant run and venomous shot which called Danny Ward into action.
Wales had posed some threat early on but their only shot on target in the first half – Keiffer Moore’s header from Daniel James’ cross – was denied by a brilliant Yann Sommer save.
But the Dragons target man scored with his side’s second and final shot on target, heading in from Joe Morrell’s cross to grab the vital equaliser in the 74th minute.
Wales were dealt a late scare as Mario Gavranovic found the back of the net only for a lengthy VAR check to rule the goal out, while the brilliant Danny Ward was called into action at the death.
The Dragons’ hopes of reaching the knock-out stage now hang in the balance, with a challenging clash with Turkey up next before a trip to Stadio Olimpico for a showdown with hot prospects Italy.
Here are five talking points from the Baku Olympic Stadium.
1. Sommer stars during bright Dragons start
Wales started the brighter of the two teams in a baking Baku and were agonisingly close to finding an opener within the first quarter of an hour.
Daniel James was particularly threatening on the left flank throughout the match and picked out Keiffer Moore with a brilliant cross to the back post. The target man’s header seemed destined to find the back of the net, but a brilliant Yann Sommer save kept the scores level.
On Wales’ other flank, Gareth Bale showed glimpses of his ability as he dropped into the space between Switzerland’s midfield and defence to pull the strings.
On one such occasion, he collected the ball and fed a delightful through-ball for Connor Roberts to run onto, but the right-back failed to pick out a man in red with his cross.
2. James dazzles but Swiss turn screw
Despite their opposition’s promising early flurry, it was Switzerland who took charge of the game as the first half wore on.
Vladimir Petkovic’s side have players who liked to dominate the ball, with the likes of Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and Ricardo Rodriguez heavily involved as the Swiss amassed well over two-thirds of possession.
Fabian Schar went closest for the men in white in the opening half-hour by flicking Shaqiri’s corner goalwards and forcing a fine save from Danny Ward.
The Newcastle stalwart was also at the centre of the action at the other end of the pitch, where he chopped down an onrushing Daniel James on the edge of the area.
While no Wales head was able to get on the end of Gareth Bale’s subsequent free kick, James’ surging run to win the set piece reminded Switzerland – and the other teams in Group A – of the threat Wales pose on the counter-attack.
3. Welsh resistance broken as Embolo steals show
On an afternoon without many standout performances, it was Breel Embolo who lit up Euro 2020 for Switzerland.
The Borussia Monchengladbach star was his country’s most threatening player throughout the match and combined well with forward partner Haris Seferovic in the first half.
But he hit new heights in the second, carving the Welsh centre-halves open on numerous occasions and creating the chance for himself to grab the opener in the 49th minute.
Embolo showed brilliant strength to get a shot off and force Danny Ward – who was fantastic throughout the match – into a fine save. He then outmuscled Connor Roberts and headed in from the resultant corner delivered by Xherdan Shaqiri.
Embolo almost grabbed a second goal in the 65th minute, but his clipped effort sailed narrowly wide. Switzerland will be hoping for more of the same from their No. 7 in their remaining group-stage games.
4. The verdict on Wales’ superstars
Heading into Euro 2020, the Welsh spotlight was unsurprisingly firmly fixed on Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.
But Wales’ performance in Baku rubbished such claims, and it was two somewhat peripheral players who combined for the equaliser.
Luton Town midfielder Joe Morrell delivered the cross for Cardiff City’s Keiffer Moore to head home, while it was Daniel James who posed more of an attacking threat than the likes of Bale and Ramsey.
Rob Page’s side showed great togetherness and spirit – which stands them in good stead in their remaining group-stage fixutres.
5. Group A state of play
On paper, things are only going to get more difficult for Wales as the group stage progresses.
Rob Page’s side are staying in Baku for their next fixture to face Turkey on Wednesday, with the Near-Eastern nation sure to have strong support from fans in nearby Azerbaijan.
Wales then wrap up their group-stage campaign with a challenging trip to Stadio Olimpico to face Italy.
The Azzurri were impressive in their opening-game clash with Turkey, winning 3-0 thanks to an own-goal from Merih Demiral and strikes from Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne in the second half.
Italy are no doubt favourites to top the group and reach the last 16, while Wales’ draw with Switzerland leaves the race for second finely poised.
Their upcoming encounter with Turkey will be crucial, while it’s worth remembering every point is vital with four spots in the last 16 up for grabs for the best third-placed teams.