Wales boss Ryan Giggs singled out Gareth Bale for praise after his players crushed Nations League opponents the Republic of Ireland.
Tom Lawrence, Bale – with his 30th goal for Wales – Aaron Ramsey and Connor Roberts were on target before Republic substitute Shaun Williams provided some cheer for the visitors in a 4-1 defeat at Cardiff City Stadium.
Giggs was enthused about a trademark box office display from Bale ahead of what is now likely to be an appointment with a full-strength Denmark in Aarhus on Sunday after a dispute about players’ commercial rights was resolved.
“Every time he plays, he makes a difference, whether it’s for Wales or Real Madrid,” Giggs said. “It gives everyone a lift, but he’s a great example of the level you have to get to.
“It’s a difficult match with a very good team on Sunday. We don’t know what their preparation has been like, but we expect a tough game, their best 11, and they are probably favourites in the group.
“We might have to play even better to get that result. I said to the players the bad news is you have to keep to that standard. They have to keep getting better, keep improving.”
Ireland boss Martin O’Neill had no complaints about the result after seeing a team missing a handful of regulars taken apart.
“We were well beaten in the game,” he said. “We were second best for pretty well all of the evening.
“We made more than a few mistakes. We allowed room for world-class players, and particularly Gareth Bale, to work his magic.
“He is a world-class player, and I do think it helps when you have got a world-class player at your disposal. He is capable of unlocking defences, he is capable of scoring the type of goal that he did, and he is playing for Real Madrid as well.
“We were missing some really key players tonight. Fine. This was a really tough evening for us, regardless of whether we had some players missing, and we should do better.
“It has not diminished my enthusiasm for the job one jot. We’ve a long, long way to go, and we might have one or two players back for the games in Dublin.”
The victory might not have erased the pain of Wales’ World Cup elimination last October when the Republic won 1-0 at the same venue.
But the manner of the performance, with talented youngsters Ethan Ampadu and David Brooks excelling on their first competitive starts and Bale at his brilliant best, gave a tantalising glimpse of the bright future that could lie ahead under Giggs.
“I talked about expressing themselves and trusting each other, and that’s what I got,” Giggs said.
“We could have scored more, but to get four in any game is special.
“Credit to ourselves, not many teams could have lived with us tonight. I think we’d have given anyone a game.
“The young lads came in and did well, but I feel we have got 30 players who can be in the first XI. I never had that when I played for Wales.”
Asked about 17-year-old Ampadu’s display, Giggs added: “Ethan is a talent, but not only as a player, but as a person. He is so measured and mature and takes it all in his stride. I am really pleased for him.”
Wales and the Republic of Ireland launched their campaigns in the new Nations League at Cardiff City Stadium, with Wales cruising to a 4-1 victory.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at how the players rated.
Wayne Hennessey: Rarely tested, and could watch in comfort for most of the game as Wales dominated. 6 (out of 10)
Connor Roberts: The Swansea player produced a tireless work-rate and scored a first senior goal, while time and time again running selflessly for his colleagues. 8
Chris Mepham: Fitted well into Wales’ impressive framework as they destroyed Ireland through some majestic first half football. 7
Ashley Williams: Wales’ long-serving captain marshalled his troops well, although they did not need much encouragement to play in such thrilling free-flowing fashion. 7
Ben Davies: Accomplished at the back, and fired a spectacular pass that Gareth Bale gathered without breaking stride for Wales’ memorable second goal. 7
Ethan Ampadu: The 17-year-old performed like a seasoned international, spraying out passes with sustained accuracy. Looks a natural. 9
Joe Allen: Kept things ticking over nicely as part of a Wales midfield unit that enjoyed overwhelming dominance. Calm and assured. 7
Aaron Ramsey: Scored Wales’ third goal with a smart finish after Ampadu sent him clear. Quality contribution. 7
David Brooks: Like Ampadu, he lapped up the occasion, running confidently into space and taking on Ireland’s defenders. Impressive. 7
Tom Lawrence: Dream start with high-class finish for Wales’ early opener, and it set the tone as the home side never looked back. 7
Gareth Bale: Scored his 30th Wales goal with a blistering first-half finish that once again underlined his global box-office status. 8
Matthew Smith (for Ampadu): The Manchester City youngster was given a chance after 66 minutes. 6
Tyler Roberts (for Bale): Entered the action with 16 minutes left, replacing the majestic Bale. 6
Paul Dummett (for Davies): Given a run for the closing stages on his first Wales appearance in almost three years. 6
France coach Didier Deschamps was disappointed to see no Les Bleus players nominated for The Best FIFA Men’s Player award.
Antoine Griezmann was omitted, along with the rest of his World Cup-winning teammates, from the final three nominees for the accolade.
The finalists are Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah, the same three who made up the podium for UEFA’s award.
And, while Deschamps stopped short of saying any of his squad deserved to win the award, the 49-year-old was keen to highlight Antoine Griezmann’s achievements for club and country.
“I am disappointed,” Deschamps said.
“I won’t say it’s unfair, because that would mean the three others who stay in the race would not deserve it.
“They deserve it, but what I can say is that Antoine and a few other French players would have deserved to be in the list too.
“And, I hope I will not be accused of national chauvinism, but when you consider their achievement with their national team this summer and what they have done with their clubs too, they would deserve it.
“Antoine has won the Europa League, being decisive in final. We need to accept it, votes are coming from everywhere in the world.
“I am disappointed for him and for others, as Antoine was not the only one to deserve it.”