Wales advanced to the European Championship’s knockout stages as group winner after comprehensively beating Russia 3-0 on Monday.
Goals from Aaron Ramsey, Neil Taylor and Gareth Bale, his third in consecutive games at Euro 2016, ensured that Wales won Group B ahead of England, which could only draw 0-0 with Slovakia.
Ramsey opened the scoring in the 11th minute after a quick counterattack, chipping the ball over the advancing goalkeeper. Taylor doubled the advantage nine minutes later after slotting in a rebound, his first international goal. Bale then made it 3-0 in the 67th minute with an audacious shot that makes him the tournament’s leading scorer.
“Overall it was a fantastic performance and we topped the group, which no one would have seen coming,” Ramsey said.
“Our main target was to get out of group, to finish top of the group is a fantastic feeling,” he added.
For Russia, defeat meant its time at Euro 2016 is over and coach Leonid Slutsky gave a major hint that he won’t be the man in charge for much longer. The team, which only earned one point in a disappointing campaign, will now focus on the World Cup, which it is hosting in two years.
“I think after a type of tournament like this, you need someone else to take charge of the national side for major competitions,” Slutsky said after the match.
Russia, which needed to win the match to have any chance of progressing, took a more attacking posture at the Stadium de Toulouse. But its attacking forays left space for Wales to strike on the counterattack.
All of Wales’ goals came from crisp movement and deft passing. For Wales’ first, James Chester won possession deep in Russia’s half and back-flicked to Joe Allen, who threaded the ball behind the defense to Ramsey. The Arsenal midfielder beat the offside trap and lifted the ball over Igor Akinfeev.
The second came after Bale dribbled toward the penalty area. Four Russia defenders surrounded the Real Madrid forward, which exposed the team’s left flank, into which Taylor entered unmarked. His first effort was blocked by Akinfeev, but Taylor was there to slot in the rebound. Bale’s goal came after being put through by Ramsey.
Welsh supporters, in a sea of red around the Stadium de Toulouse, chanted “Don’t take us home! Please don’t take us home!” during the match. But as the match went on, they confidently chanted “We are top of the league” and now look forward to an encounter in the knockout phase.
At the beginning of the tournament, Wales’ first major competition since the 1958 World Cup, few expected the team would win their group.
“Now that we’re through we want to see how far we can go,” Ramsey said. “Anything can happen in the next matches.”