CARDIFF, Wales — Gareth Bale set Wales on the path to reaching its first World Cup since 1958 with a double strike and an assist in a 4-0 victory over Moldova at the start of qualifying on Monday.
The empathic display, albeit against a wretched Moldova side, was the first outing by the Welsh since they stunned the continent by reaching the European Championship semifinals in July.
“That was history,” Bale said. “Now it’s time to make some more.”
Bale was the inspiration on the field in the Group D qualifier just as he was in France, taking his international tally to 24 goals — only four behind Wales’ all-time record scorer Ian Rush.
Bale’s first goal in Cardiff was one of the easiest he will ever be gifted.
A back pass from Moldova defender Ion Jardan was inexplicably sent into the path of Bale, the only Wales player in the visitors’ half, four minutes into the second half. Bale darted forward with the ball before lifting it over the goalkeeper.
Jardan also assisted Bale’s second goal in stoppage time. The Real Madrid forward was pushed over by the hapless Jardan in the penalty area and he converted from the spot.
In the first half, Bale provided the cross that was headed in by Sam Vokes for Wales’ opener and he won the corner that Joe Allen scored from just before the break.
GEORGIA 1, AUSTRIA 2
Martin Hinteregger headed in the opener and Marc Janko struck Austria’s second before half time. Jano Ananidze pulled one back for Georgia late in the second half but Austria survived a nervy ending to match Wales by winning the opening qualifier.
SERBIA 2, IRELAND 2
At the age of 33 on his 24th Ireland appearance, Daryl Murphy’s search for a first international goal ended. And the Newcastle forward couldn’t have timed it better, netting the equalizer in the 80th minute in Serbia.
Jeff Hendrick had fired Ireland into a third-minute lead but Filip Kostic and Dusan Tadic scored within five second-half minutes to give Serbia the advantage until Murphy’s header.