Euro 2016 qualifier roundup: Gareth Bale leads Wales over No. 2 Belgium; Croatia, Italy play to draw; Netherlands wins
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Gareth Bale pounced on a defensive error to give Wales a 1-0 win over Belgium in European Championship qualifying on Friday, lifting his team atop Group B and within sight of a first major tournament since 1958.
The Real Madrid star controlled on his chest a misguided back-header by Radja Nainggolan, swivelled and sidefooted a shot through the legs of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois in the 25th minute for the winner at Cardiff City Stadium.
Unbeaten Wales moved above Belgium into first place with four games left of the campaign and is five points clear of third-place Israel, which lost 3-1 at Bosnia Herzegovina.
The top two teams qualify automatically for next year's tournament in France. Cyprus beat Andorra 3-1 and is tied on points with Israel, one above the Bosnians.
Elsewhere in Euro 2016 qualifiers:
CROATIA, ITALY DRAW IN GROUP H
Croatia maintained its two-point lead over Italy atop Group H after drawing 1-1 against the Azzurri in a European Championship qualifying match in Split on Friday.
However, the game between the two sides will again be overshadowed by side events as a swastika pattern was clearly seen etched onto on the pitch.
The November qualifier at San Siro was temporarily halted by crowd trouble and Croatia had to play Friday's match without any fans as punishment for racist chanting and other misconduct during that 1-1 draw.
Mario Mandzukic saw a penalty saved by Gianluigi Buffon before scoring the opener. He also gave away a spot kick which Antonio Candreva converted for the equalizer in the 36th.
Also in Group H, Bulgaria beat Malta 1-0 and Norway drew 0-0 with Azerbaijan.
DUTCH BOUNCE BACK FROM U.S. LOSS
PSV Eindhoven teammates Georginio Wijnaldum and Luciano Narsingh scored second-half goals Friday as the Netherlands beat Latvia 2-0 in Riga to move closer to second place in its European Championship qualifying group.
Briefly languishing in fourth place before kick off after Turkey won 1-0 in Kazakhstan, the Netherlands regained third with its first away win since Guus Hiddink started his second stint in charge of the national team after it finished third in last year's World Cup.
"We had to win, and we did," said midfielder Wesley Sneijder.
Wijnaldum poked the ball just inside the post in the 67th minute for his third international goal, just four minutes after coming on for out of form striker Robin van Persie.
"My quality is finding good positions in front of goal and scoring," said Wijnaldum. "It's always a golden substitution if the person who comes on scores."
Four minutes later Narsingh, largely ineffective up until then, also scored his third for the Netherlands when he broke behind the defense and calmly shot past Andris Vanins.
In Reykjavik, Iceland came from a goal down to beat the Czech Republic 2-1 and take over the lead in Group A. The Netherlands is now three points behind the Czechs.
Borek Dockal opened the scoring for the Czechs before Aron Gunnarsson and Kolbeinn Sightorsson gave Iceland the win.
Arda Turan scored a late winner for Turkey in Almaty.
Without star winger Arjen Robben, the Dutch attack struggled to create clear-cut chances in the first half and when it did manage a shot, Latvia goalkeeper Vanins was almost always well positioned to save.
Sneijder was the only person to beat the FC Sion keeper before the break, but his curling, dipping shot hit the post in the 20th minute. He beat Vanins again with a delicate chip in the 81st, but the crossbar came to the goalkeeper's rescue.
Latvia came close to making the Dutch rue their missed chances when he Valerijs Sabala hit a shot with the outside of his right foot that just failed to curl into the far corner of Jasper Cillessen's goal in the last minute before the break.
Latvia appealed for a penalty in the 13th minute when Deniss Rakels fell in a duel with Gregory van der Wiel, but instead the Latvian winger was booked for diving.