Ryan Giggs: Wales had to get off to a winning start against Slovakia
24 March 2019, 17:53 | Updated: 25 March 2019, 07:50
Wales manager Ryan Giggs admitted the pressure was on his side to get their European Qualifiers campaign off to a winning start against Slovakia on Sunday.
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The home team overcame Slovakia 1-0 thanks to Daniel James's fifth-minute strike at the Cardiff City Stadium to move level on points with their opponents, and Croatia, in the Group E standings.
However, with both Croatia and Slovakia having won their opening games in the section, Giggs knew Wales also needed to get all three points in the Principality.
"It's not easy," he told Sky Sports. "I had to play it down beforehand when all the other teams have got points on the board and you do feel the pressure, and you feel that you've got to get off to a good start and win and that's what we got," Giggs told Sky Sports.
"I am proud in the performances and at the end, just digging in and keeping that clean sheet."
Giggs caused a few raised eyebrows by selecting a youthful line-up in the Welsh capital, making 11 changes from Wednesday's 1-0 friendly win over Trinidad and Tobago, but it paid off.
"Especially in the first half, they showed really good composure," Giggs added. "In the second we rode our luck a little bit.
"I felt we could have scored a couple more goals [in the] first half with the right decision-making in the final third. Some of the play was fantastic, paired with a lot of grit and determination at the end.
"I just said to the players we've got a great group of all the players, younger players, I wanted clean sheets.
"With the talent in the squad, we're always going to create chances."
Next up for Wales is a tricky-looking trip to World Cup finalists Croatia, followed by an equally-important away game with Hungary in June.
"You've got to play them," said Giggs. "Yes [it will be] a tough game, especially the first one, but we'll prepare right and the lads are ready now. We're confident and excited now."
Meanwhile, Wales captain Gareth Bale sung his team-mates' praises after their hard-fought victory.
"Everyone put in a shift today, that's what we're used to now," he told Sky Sports.
"The requirement is that we give 100 per cent and all the boys showed that today even the younger ones who weren't in the last campaign."
And when asked about Wales' strength off the ball, Bale said: "I think that's mainly what our success has been off even after the Euros and the qualifiers then in the Euros we built it off a good solid defence.
"Not just the defence, the whole team. We work together in units and we know we're always going to nick a goal and today it was Dan [James] and it was a great strike."
On the start to the group, Swansea winger James added: "That's all we need. Obviously, the second half we came in to a lot of pressure but we started the game well and got the goal and when we shut up shop, we know how to do it."
The Wales goalscorer claimed the hosts had to dig in after their early goal to get the win.
"Obviously we got off to a good start by getting that goal and from then on we had to dig in and we did that," he said.
"I think once I won it off him I just popped it and 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 and I think we did well. The fans kept with us and I think we dug it out and got the win in the end."
As for the visitors, Slovakia manager Pavel Hapal was disappointed that his team failed to collect a point from their second pool game.
"It was a very interesting match," he said. "We were very good in the second half, but we made a lot of mistakes in the
first half and Wales gained a lot from their pressing game.
"We pushed our opponents in the 90 minutes and we had a few chances. I think we could have got a point today."
(c) Sky News 2019: Ryan Giggs: Wales had to get off to a winning start against Slovakia