By Gareth James
David Brooks paid tribute to the fans who supported him after he scored his first goal for Wales since recovering from his cancer diagnosis.
The Bournemouth star struck the second goal in Wales’ vital 2-0 victory in Latvia on Monday night which has kept alive their hopes of qualification for Euro 2024.
Brooks scored his first Premier League goal for the Cherries earlier this month after returning to action following his illness, which first surfaced in October 2021.
He was given the all-clear from Hodgkin lymphoma seven months later but it has been a long road back and there was no mistaking the euphoric feeling that greeted his deft finish after the final whistle.
Brooks said: “This means a lot – the three-year journey that I’ve been on to get to this point has been a long one and obviously the fans have been amazing.
“The behind-the-scenes work that has gone on by people for me to even be on the pitch, never mind doing something I love, and scoring goals at international level is something special.”
A penalty from skipper Aaron Ramsey – his 100th career goal – and the deft chip over the goalkeeper from Brooks deep into stoppage time, put Wales within three points of a top-two place and lifted the pressure on under-fire manager Rob Page.
Ramsey said: “It wasn’t easy to come here, a lot of teams have struggled.
“So, to come and win with two goals is fantastic, and for Brooksy as well… it’s as good for him as it is for us. He’s so important for us and it’s nice for him to score. We’re just happy to have him back.”
Wales have three games left after their win in Latvia and realistically have to win all of them – including beating Turkey and Croatia at home – to have a chance to sneak into the top spots, both of which qualify automatically for the finals.
David Brooks came off the bench against Latvia and scored his first Wales goal since 2020 to seal a win for his country in stoppage time tonight.
— HLTCO (@HLTCO) September 11, 2023
Wales host group leaders Croatia in October, travel to Armenia in November, and then finish the campaign at home to Turkey three days later.
Group favourites Croatia’s 1-0 victory in Armenia was further good news for Wales, who had only won once in 13 games before arriving in Riga.
Ramsey and others had backed Page during the build-up to a game many saw as pivotal in the manager’s tenure.
Page said of the players’ support: “It feels good, it feels powerful, absolutely – that’s a massive compliment to myself from the players.
“I’ve just said to them, even the lads that have not played, they all play a part. There are no bad eggs in that changing room.
“Pressure doesn’t exist, it is created from outside influence.
“We did our best as staff to try to not let that penetrate the bubble and keep as calm as possible.
“We knew it was going to be a tough test for us after their heavy defeat. It wasn’t just about the win, I thought the performance was outstanding.
“For the first 35 minutes of the first half, we were outstanding, kept the ball. We got the goal and then retreated a little bit, which we’ll address.”
"I didn't want the game [against South Korea] because I didn't want to risk injuries" 😬
Wales boss Rob Page previews his sides Euro 2024 qualifier against Latvia 🏴 pic.twitter.com/uXwnF7Bxie
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) September 10, 2023
Wales had numerous chances to put the game beyond Latvia after Harry Wilson was bundled over in the box after 28 minutes and Ramsey converted from 12 yards.
But none were taken until the sixth minute of stoppage time when Brooks, on for the injured Ramsey, accepted Wilson’s pass to slot home his first Wales goal since recovering from cancer last year.
Page said: “The pressure came from the outside, understandably, but we never questioned it within the group.
“We knew we had to give a positive reaction after the disappointment of June (Euro 2024 campaign defeats to Armenia and Turkey) and we absolutely have – and some.
“A great performance against a very, very good (South) Korea team last week and followed it up with a completely different test against a very physical team that went back to front quite a bit.
“We had to win first contacts and second balls.
“And people like young Jordan James stepping in when we asked him to and developing the young players into this team. He was outstanding again.”
Ramsey told S4C that he came off early in the second half as a precaution and will be fit for Cardiff’s South Wales derby against Swansea on Saturday.
A BIG win for Wales in #EURO2024 qualifying! 👊
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) September 11, 2023