- Gareth Bale scores twice as Wales beat Israel 3-0 in Euro 2016 qualification
- He'd been criticized by Real Madrid for putting country before club
- More shocks as Bulgaria hold Italy
(CNN)Gareth Bale scored twice for Wales as they beat Israel 3-0 in Euro 2016 qualification, taking them to the top of their group and on course for a first major finals since the 1958 World Cup.
The Real Madrid striker dominated the game in the northern city of Haifa, setting up Arsenal's Aaron Ramsay for the first goal before scoring twice in the second half to help Wales easily beat an Israel team who had been early pacesetters in the group.
Club v country
Much of the build up had focused on Bale. After an impressive first season at Madrid he has come under attack in the Spanish press for putting country before club. He was awarded 0/10 by Spanish newspaper Marca following Barcelona's recent 2-1 El Clasico win and saw two fans attack his car as he left the ground after the match.
But Bale didn't appear to be showing any signs of rust as he took Israel apart, a team that hadn't lost a competitive game in two and a half years.
"To come out on top is amazing. The first half was very hard. We did a lot of running, closed them down well, and luckily got the goal which gave us a lot of confidence," Bale told British broadcaster Sky Sports after the game.
"We came out in the second half buzzing and showed what a good team we are." he added.
Italy, Czech Republic held
Meanwhile Italy narrowly avoided defeat against Bulgaria. A flurry of first half goals in Sofia had given Bulgaria a 2-1 lead, a lead they looked to have held on to.
But late in the game Brazilian-born striker Eder scored on his debut to spare Italy's blushes.
The Czech Republic also narrowly avoided defeat, against lowly Latvia. Vaclav Pilar's last-minute equalizer in Prague was just enough to keep them top of the group, with Iceland hot on their heels after a 3-0 victory against Kazakhstan.