Gareth Bale became Wales’ all-time top scorer as his hat-trick inspired a 6-0 rout of China during Ryan Giggs’ first game at the helm.
The Football Association of Wales (FAW) reportedly faced a £100,000 dent in their China Cup appearances fee if the Real Madrid superstar did not feature, and Manchester United great Giggs decided he wanted Bale in place from the very start of his reign.
The 28-year-old has received a rapturous reception since the squad’s arrival in Nanning and he thrilled those in attendance with a brilliant second-minute solo goal.
Bale netted his second in the 21st minute, drawing level with Liverpool hero Ian Rush on 28 Wales goals.
The country’s current number nine, Sam Vokes, and Hull City’s on-loan Liverpool youngster Harry Wilson were also on target before half-time – both beneficiaries of a shambolic China defence that did a thorough disservice to the esteemed Marcello Lippi in their dugout.
For the rookie Giggs, who kept the 3-4-3 system that served predecessor Chris Coleman so well and saw Vokes add his second before the hour, it was a serene introduction to international management, crowned by the man who has replaced and arguably surpassed him as Wales’ world-class inspiration on the field.
29 – Gareth Bale is now the top scorer for the Welsh national team with 29 goals, breaking the record of 28 goals previously held by Ian Rush. Dragon. pic.twitter.com/51Jjlt6GQG
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 22, 2018
Noise levels inside the Guangxi Sports Center Stadium climbed considerably the first time Bale collected the ball in an attacking position and he did not disappoint.
Wales’ star forward collected Vokes’ flick-on, held off He Guan and powered past Wang Shenchao to arrow an excellent side-footed finish high into the net.
Moments after Ashley Williams wasted a glorious chance from a 20th-minute corner, China inexplicably presented possession to Vokes, who selflessly played in Bale to slot home.
The Burnley striker duly got in on the act, diverting Andy King’s knockdown into the bottom corner following a wonderful raking pass from Bale, who almost had a hat-trick when Yan beat a sweetly struck 20-yarder to safety.
It was a lovely finish from Sam Vokes. Some fantastic build-up play too! #CHNWAL #TogetherStronger #一起更强大 pic.twitter.com/kkbJ1pxJB0
— Wales @Cymru) March 22, 2018
There was more misery for an abject China before the break, with Wilson cutting in from the right past He to float a sumptuous finish into the far corner and stylishly mark his 21st birthday.
Wang and He’s withdrawals among a raft of half-time substitutions felt like an act of mercy from Lippi, whose side nearly got on the board through Wei Shihao’s acrobatic volley from a 50th-minute corner.
Wilson claimed an assist to go with a goal on his first international start as a cute reverse ball allowed Vokes to get the better of something vaguely resembling an offside trap and roll in a 57th minute finish.
Vokes volleyed off target with a hat-trick in his sights, leaving Bale to stroll through an area of the field where he might have expected to find defenders and slot a 62nd-minute effort beyond Yan for his piece of history.
The man of the hour made way to an adoring ovation before Wayne Hennessey tipped substitute Yu Hanchao’s effort on to the post – a small reminder to Giggs that life in his new job will rarely, if ever, be quite this easy.