Albania 1 Wales 0: Gunter's night spoiled by Balaj

Wales ended 2018 with back-to-back defeats as Albania earned a 1-0 victory in Chris Gunter's landmark appearance.

Chris Gunter in action for Wales   -  Twitter (@Cymru)

Chris Gunter became Wales' most-capped player in Elbasan on Tuesday but Ryan Giggs' side could not mark the occasion with victory as it was beaten 1-0 by Albania.

Gunter made his international bow in 2007 and the goalless friendly saw him go past Neville Southall with 93 caps, a tally the 29-year-old could significantly add to before the end of his career.

A celebratory night in Cardiff might have a better way for the full-back to separate given there was very little to cheer for those fans who had made the journey. 

Sam Vokes missed two glorious chances for Wales either side of the break and they proved costly as Bekim Balaj secured victory for Albania with a 58th-minute penalty.

Gunter's landmark night saw Wales make a positive start but finding a way through the Albanian defence proved harder than Scotland had found three days earlier.

Lively attacking duo David Brooks and Harry Wilson looked the most likely to threaten Etrit Berisha's goal, with the latter wasting Wales' best opportunity with a long-range free kick that drifted wide.

Taulant Xhaka was lucky to stay on the pitch just before the break as he appeared to move his head towards Brooks', but the officials only showed him a yellow card.

A flowing move – started by Wilson – eventually saw Joe Allen play in Vokes, but his low shot was easily saved by the alert ​Berisha.

Vokes failed again just after the restart as he proved unable to turn in Tom Lockyer's header from a yard out, the Burnley striker somehow finding the hands of the goalkeeper.

Despite dominating, Wales found themselves behind just before the hour when Wilson was adjudged to have pulled back Xhaka in the penalty area. Balaj made no mistake from 12 yards.

Even the introduction of Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale could not turn Wales' fortunes around as Giggs's men ended 2018 with back-to-back defeats.


What does it mean? Miserable end to Giggs' first year

Since succeeding Chris Coleman in January, Giggs has overseen only three wins from nine matches, losing four of the last five. Added to that, Wales also failed to earn promotion from the Nations League as they finished second in their group with Denmark and the Republic of Ireland.

Wasteful Vokes costs Wales

Vokes' poor form in front of goal for Wales continued after he failed to add to the three strikes he has to his name this year. Twice he should have beaten Berisha but unerringly found the keeper.

Xhaka's a lucky boy

It may have been a friendly but Xhaka was fortunate not to see red after clashing with Brooks, the midfielder pulling his rivals leg before appearing to headbutt the Bournemouth man.

Key Opta Facts

- Albania recorded their first ever win against Wales, having lost one and drawn one of their two previous meetings.
- Wales have won just one of their last 12 friendly matches (D3 L8), beating China 6-0 in March.
- Albania scored with their first shot on target of the match, a 58th minute penalty by Bekim Balaj.

What's next

With the next international break in March, both managers will have time to assess their options ahead of the European Championship qualifiers.

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