Wales battle through to salvage point from Switzerland in Baku heat
Wales refused to wilt in the Baku heat, taking a point thanks to a magnificent header from Kieffer Moore
And so, five years on from their fairytale run to the semi-finals in France, Wales returned to tournament football with a hard-earned point against Switzerland on the other side of the continent.
If only for the first couple of minutes, Rob Page's men threatened to adopt the same buccaneering spirit of France 2016, twice bursting forward inside early stages with a sense of urgency and purpose which flustered the Swiss defenders. This, though, in the sweltering Baku heat, was never likely to be sustainable for a long period of time.
Although Kieffer Moore's header from Dan James' cross drew a decent save from Yann Sommer, Switzerland soon settled, stifling Wales' attack and gradually gaining the upper hand as the seconds ticked away towards half-time. Clear-cut opportunities for Vladimir Petkovic's side were limited, but the steady accumulation of set-pieces in dangerous positions foreshadowed what was to come in the early stages of the second-half.
Goalless at the interval, Switzerland started the second half the brighter. Breel Embolo - their best player on the day - led the line magnificently and looked certain to score when he surged through the middle to find himself one on one with Danny Ward. The goalkeeper was equal to his effort, however, turning it behind. Embolo would not be denied from the resulting corner, however. Tightly marked by Connor Roberts, he was still able to direct his header beyond Ward to open the scoring.
Though that goal triggered a slight improvement to the tempo of the Welsh play, this soon faded. In truth, with little over 15 minutes to play, Switzerland were beginning to look comfortable.
Wales, wilting in the 30-degree heat, were afforded plenty of the ball by their opponents but struggled to convert it into anything close to meaningful chances. It felt very much like the game was drifting away from them.
Then, it happened.
A rare Welsh corner was taken short and quickly worked to the edge of the Swiss area, where Joe Morrell whipped a cross towards the penalty spot. Having escaped his marker, Kieffer Moore, sporting a red bandage from an earlier blow to the head, glanced a perfectly angled header into the corner of the goal. Sommer was beaten. From nothing, Wales were back on terms.
This was as good as it got for the Welsh. Important though it was, they could not follow up with a winner.
As full-time drew close, it was Switzerland, again, who looked the likelier to take all three points. The intervention of VAR correctly disallowed a close-range effort from Mario Gavranović, seconds after he had come on. The substitute was denied minutes later, this time by Ward, who was able to touch another effort from the same man around his post.
In the end, then, a valuable point. It could have been better for Wales, but it definitely could have been worse. Attentions will now turn to next Wednesday's meeting with Turkey who, despite boasting an impressive record in qualifying, were ruthlessly dispatched by a rejuvenated Italy side on Friday night.
Though progress to beyond the group stages doesn't hinge on the result of that game, a win would alleviate some of the need to beat the Azzurri on home soil next weekend.