Chris Gunter, Dave Edwards and Jón Daði Böðvarsson were at the heart of the action for Wales and Iceland as the two nations registered crucial victories in their penultimate World Cup qualifying group games.
Both Wales and Iceland made a big impression at last summer’s European Championships – and after Friday night’s wins, now they are in a terrific position to prove that last summer was more than a flash in the pan.
In the day’s earlier kick-off, Gunter was named in the starting XI for Wales in Tbilisi against a Georgian side which, while already out of the running for qualification, had proven difficult to beat and registered five draws from their previous eight outings.
And on his 82nd cap for the Dragons – 10 shy of Neville Southall’s all-time record – Gunter marshalled a defence which kept out the Georgian attack, meaning that the Tom Lawrence’s blistering strike from all of 30 yards early in the second period was enough to separate the teams and earn a 1-0 win. With 10 minutes to go, Edwards replaced Joe Ledley to help the nation to see out the victory.
With Serbia blundering a lead to lose in Austria, Wales now sit just a point off the head of the Group D table with one game remaining. If Wales can avoid defeat to Ireland in their final fixture on Monday they will guarantee a spot in second… and potentially qualify automatically if the Serbians slip up against Georgia.
Internationals | Royals aiming to secure World Cup qualification this weekend5 October 2017
Later in the evening, Jón Daði Böðvarsson lined up in attack for Iceland as the island nation made light work of Turkey in Group I, as the visitors were 3-0 victors in Eskisehir.
Royals forward Böðvarsson could rightly claim assists for the first two goals, which came a little over five minutes apart before the half-time interval.
For the first, he sent over a deep cross which Johann Gudmundsson collected and converted at the far post, and the second was a slipped pass for Birkir Bjarnason, who slotted beyond the goalkeeper.
Kari Arnason bundled in Iceland’s third as the hosts failed to deal effectively with a corner early in the second period, giving plenty of breathing room.
And for the first time in the campaign, Iceland now have it all in their own hands. Croatia conceded a 90th-minute equaliser to Finland in the night, meaning that Iceland now sit two points clear at the top of the group with just a home fixture against Kosovo remaining on Monday.
Congratulations to all involved on their crucial victories… and we wish them the best of luck to finish the job on Monday!