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Highlights: Russia 0-3 Wales

Wales’ historic Euro 2016 campaign has been a heady emotional cocktail and the win against Russia was perhaps the most stirring yet.

The manner of victory was exhilarating, the unity between fans and players uplifting and the result perhaps the greatest in Welsh football history.

For manager Chris Coleman, the strongest emotion was one of pride.

“I’m immensely proud of nights like tonight, when you see a sea of red supporters and hear that kind of support,” he said.

Wales’ greatest moment?

The Wales football team has traditionally been more familiar with failure than success, although the current side have bucked that trend.

Qualifying for Euro 2016 ended a 58-year absence from major tournaments and the campaign included highlights such as the ruthless dispatching of Israel and a highly-charged victory against a Belgium side then ranked second in the world.

Neil Taylor’s strike was his first goal since a non-league effort for Wrexham against Grays in 2010

So where does the win against Russia rank among this team’s achievements?

Euro 2016: Groups and schedule

“This is the best,” according to Chris Coleman.

There was no hesitation from the former Wales defender, who rated the demolition of Russia as the undoubted highlight of his career.

Such was the comprehensive nature of the performance, it could justifiably be described as the greatest display in Welsh football history.

The pinnacle of Wales’ 1958 World Cup campaign was a 2-1 win over Hungary, while a 1991 victory against then world champions Germany and a qualifying triumph against Italy in 2002 stand out as iconic games.

However, all those Wales teams were unable to deliver beyond those memorable results.

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Euro 2016: Top-scorer Gareth Bale’s three goals for Wales

In contrast, the current vintage could have settled for a draw to reach the knockout stages in their first appearance at a European Championship, but instead produced arguably the most complete performance ever from a Wales team.

“I think we have just gone to the next level,” said former Wales striker Dean Saunders, who was part of the 1991 team that beat Germany.

“It is brilliant to top the group and now we move on, we are ready for the next challenge and we will not be scared of anybody – I think there will be a few scared of us, though.”

The stars step up

Such is the influence of Gareth Bale, Wales have often been accused of being a one-man team that is overly reliant on the Real Madrid forward.

Bale and his team-mates have always refuted the claim, albeit with a realistic recognition of his immense importance to the side.

Gareth Bale had six shots on target, beating Russia keeper Igor Akinfeev once

Their dismantling of Russia vindicated the suggestion Wales have more than just Bale. It was a brilliant team display founded on several stellar individual performances, with the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen stepping out of the former Tottenham man’s shadow.

Ramsey has struggled to replicate his Arsenal form for his country, sometimes overzealous in his attempts to take control of games. He is undoubtedly committed, but has occasionally been guilty of over-complication in possession.

However, he delivered what was arguably his greatest international display against Russia, passing with precision and invention and scoring an excellent opening goal.

He was supported brilliantly in midfield by Allen, used infrequently by Liverpool but a passing metronome whose tenacity helped Wales play at a rapid pace to blow Russia away.

Not to be outdone, Bale was at his destructive best, evading Russia’s defenders with embarrassing ease and flicking in a stylish third goal to go top of the Euro 2016 scoring charts.

Aaron Ramsey’s career started at Cardiff City

How Coleman turned it around

There was a moment in the second half when Wales were 3-0 up, nonchalantly passing the ball around to cries of ‘Ole’ from their fans, when the red corner of Stadium de Toulouse called on Chris Coleman to give them a wave.

Naturally, he obliged, offering a stately hand to the crowd as he revelled in the majesty of the occasion.

It was a far cry from the tumult of the beginning of his reign, losing his first four matches to make the worst start of any Wales manager.

“Chris Coleman lost nine of his first 13 games and was under pressure, people calling for his head,” said Saunders.

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Wales play with no fear – Coleman

“He decided to do it his own way and the players love him.”

Coleman’s way has seen him make some bold decisions, such as selecting Sam Vokes against Russia despite the striker starting only one of Wales’ qualifying matches for Euro 2016.

Like many of his recent decisions, it paid off, and proved ‘Coleman’s way’ to be the way forward for Wales.

Chris Coleman hugs Ashley Williams as Wales celebrate beating Russia

What next?

Playing in their first European Championship, Wales face another step into the unknown as they wonder who they will face next in France.

That it will be staged at Parc de Princes in Paris on Saturday is as much as they know for certain.

Their opponents in the last 16 will be the third-placed team from Group A, C or D – but that could be any of Albania, Northern Ireland, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Turkey or Croatia.

Who would Wales like to face? Ask the fans and many might answer that, having made it this far, they do not care.

Certainly, if Wales can scale the heights of their performance against Russia, Coleman believes his side are a match for anyone.

“Whoever’s next is going to be a massive challenge for us,” he said.

“It’s not to say we can’t enjoy tonight – we’re not a country that’s been at tournament after tournament, semi-finals, finals. This is new to us.

“It’s exciting, nerve-wracking at times, a lot of pressure and tension. If we’re maxing out and at our best then we’ve always got a chance.”

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Jun 212016
 
The 0-0 draw with Slovakia meant England finished runners-up to Wales in Group B

England’s failure to beat mediocre Slovakia in Saint-Etienne – as well as Group B’s weak link Russia – leaves them and manager Roy Hodgson badly exposed at Euro 2016.

The 68-year-old’s side needed victory over Slovakia on Monday to ensure they topped the group to map out a more comfortable route into the knockout phase of the tournament.

Hodgson, in one of the most bizarre moves conducted by an England manager at a major tournament, chose this crucial moment to make six changes to his side.

England, without captain Wayne Rooney in their starting line-up, could only draw 0-0 to leave Wales as the beneficiaries as a 3-0 win over Russia saw them take top spot in the group.

So how could England and Hodgson get it so badly wrong?

Hodgson’s gamble fails

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Highlights: Slovakia 0-0 England

Once Hodgson made the astonishing decision to rest six players from the England side that beat Wales, two things had to happen – they had to beat Slovakia and they had to finish top of their group. Neither came to pass.

What possessed the manager to effectively dismantle the side that finally gave England some momentum and impetus with that dramatic 2-1 victory over Wales will be known only to him and his coaching staff.

It was an experiment, but more of the sort conducted in the shed at the bottom of the garden rather than with any serious acknowledgement of the surroundings in which it was taking place.

Managers do, of course, rest players for final group games – when the job is done, when the points are secured, when there is nothing riding on the outcome.

They do not do it when there is still the chance a failure to win could have serious ramifications for England’s chances as they move deeper into Euro 2016. If the worst case scenario had unfolded, Hodgson might have been keeping players back for a match that was not going to happen.

For a manager of Hodgson’s experience, it was an unnecessarily high-risk strategy and one that was tempting the fates, who duly obliged.

England drew. Wales won – and if England do negotiate the last-16 game in Nice against Portugal, Iceland, Hungary or Austria on Monday, the smart money will be on them facing hosts France in the last eight in Paris.

It almost smacked of arrogance that England, and more specifically Hodgson, felt he could change his side on such a mass scale and sail to top spot in the group. This was no time to take risks and yet Hodgson blindly walked into a trap of his own making. It also took Slovakia too lightly, an error a manager at this level should not make.

There seemed no logic behind the move and it appeared to go against every aspect of Hodgson’s well-versed managerial ethos. Take nothing for granted. Belt and braces.

Instead, Hodgson chose to rest Rooney, England’s best player at Euro 2016, and Kyle Walker, their second best player at Euro 2016.

Rooney was thrown on as part of the cavalry charge after 55 minutes as the experiment started to unravel. Just 24 hours after giving his fulsome backing to Hodgson, his face – of the thunderous variety – at the final whistle and after the game told a different story.

He has been one of the stand-out performers of England’s indifferent opening games. If Hodgson was compiling a list of players to rest, Rooney’s name should have been right at the bottom.

No-one can say with 100% confidence that England would have won with a full-strength side. The problem for Hodgson is that the wisdom will be that they would – which is why he may yet end up agonising over the decision he took in Saint-Etienne.

Of course, everyone could be laughing about this in three weeks when England have won Euro 2016 – but there was not much chuckling to be heard as their team bus pulled out in the Massif Central night on its way out of Saint-Etienne.

Hodgson feels the heat

Hodgson’s contract expires at the end of Euro 2016

England manager Hodgson was already under the microscope after FA chairman Greg Dyke underlined the general thinking by telling BBC Radio 5 live’s Sportsweek programme that his future, with his contract running out, would be shaped by events at Euro 2016.

Dyke will not be involved in this decision but he is unlikely to have been too far off message by suggesting a decent quarter-final defeat would be regarded as reasonable, a semi-final loss as success.

Hodgson swatted away the inevitable enquiries but what he did not need was a result such as this that meant England only finished second in a group they would have expected to top, and now face that hazardous route that may or may not lead to a contract renewal.

The manager’s post-match demeanour was defiant, although his claim that he had only made four changes rather than six because Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge came on as substitutes and finished against Wales was farcical.

“The six changes amuses me,” Hodgson said. “We finished the game against Wales with Vardy and Sturridge up front and people said that was positive. And now it suddenly becomes six with those two starting.”

Hodgson suggested someone would be on the wrong end of hiding from England soon.

“We are not doomed yet. We’re not doomed to penalties. We’re not doomed to not take our chance,” he said.

“Soon we will make someone pay. We will score goals one day. The way we are playing we are not frightened of anybody.”

For England and Hodgson, however, the reverse is true. No-one will fear England either and Hodgson needs to find that crucial factor to ease the pressure.

Campaign of confusion

England lacked potency in attack against Slovakia

Hodgson’s bungled team selection was another example of the muddled thinking and lack of a clear plan that appears to have overcome England since they landed in France.

In England’s first game against Russia in Marseille, Rooney was reinvented as a central midfield player while Raheem Sterling came in from the cold with Vardy dropped.

Hodgson’s concern was so great against Wales that his reaction to going behind was to throw strikers at Wales, namely Vardy, Sturridge and Marcus Rashford, until they cracked.

It would be churlish not to give Hodgson credit for that win, chaotic though it was, but this time he deserves the criticism that will come his way.

He removed key players from crucial parts of his team, such as full-backs Walker and Danny Rose and most of all Rooney, when England should have been throwing everything at Slovakia to get the win they needed.

England’s tactics in France seem to be lacking in structure and certainty. This was another example.

Wilshere pick shows misplaced loyalty

Rooney came on for Wilshere early in the second half against Slovakia

Hodgson fell into a trap that befell his predecessor Sven Goran-Eriksson when he picked Jack Wilshere for England’s Euro 2016 squad.

Wilshere, 24, cut a sad figure when he was taken off after 55 minutes and replaced by Rooney following a performance that confirmed suspicions rather than raised hopes.

Arsenal’s gifted midfield man tried everything he could to revive his sphere of influence on England but he looked exactly what he currently is – a player short of match sharpness, off the pace and lacking the fitness required at this elite level.

This is not his fault. He played 141 minutes over three games for Arsenal last season but such is Hodgson’s admiration for Wilshere he simply could not travel to France without him.

Wilshere is a fierce competitor and may turn things around but his selection currently looks an indulgent mistake of the sort Eriksson made when he took David Beckham to the World Cup in Japan in 2002 and Rooney to Germany four years later.

Beckham and Rooney were never at their best and Wilshere’s plight is even more acute.

Wilshere will be back. Hodgson will hope it is in France but the evidence of Saint-Etienne suggests it will be later.

What next for England

England had been aiming for a last-16 game in Paris on Saturday – now they will be off to the south of France to Nice to face whoever finishes second in Group F, Iceland, Portugal, Austria or Hungary.

If they negotiate that, it looks increasingly like they will have to step into an emotional Paris environment to face the hosts in the quarter-finals.

Not easy – but this is a problem of Hodgson’s own making and one he may now feel he could have done better to avoid.

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Highlights: Russia 0-3 Wales

Wales swept past Russia with a breathtaking display in their final group game at Euro 2016 to reach the knockout stages of a major tournament for only the second time in their history.

Aaron Ramsey’s beautiful clipped finish put Wales ahead before Neil Taylor scored his first international goal as Chris Coleman’s side seized control with an inspired first-half performance.

There was no let-up in the second half as the irrepressible Gareth Bale struck to become the tournament’s leading scorer with three goals.

England’s goalless draw against Slovakia in Saint-Etienne means Wales progress as Group B winners and will face the third-placed team from Group A, C or D.

News of the England result filtered through to the Toulouse crowd a couple of minutes after the final whistle, adding to the sense of disbelieving euphoria among Wales’ raucous supporters.

Seizing the moment

Wales have scored at least twice as many first-half goals as any other team at Euro 2016

Playing in their first European Championship, Wales take their place in the knockout stages of an international competition for the first time since a goal by Pele saw them beaten by Brazil in the 1958 World Cup quarter-finals.

There was security in the knowledge a draw was probably enough, while even a defeat coupled with an English win against Slovakia could have seen them progress as one of the best third-placed teams.

Yet Coleman and his players did not want to rely on anyone else. With their destiny in their own hands, Wales wanted to take care of business in Toulouse.

They did so in spectacular fashion, overwhelming a ponderous Russia side with one of the most impressive performances in Welsh football history.

History boy Bale

Here are Wales’ shots on target in the first half, including goals from Aaron Ramsey and Neil Taylor. They had 19 shots in the match

Coleman raised a few eyebrows by selecting striker Sam Vokes ahead of Hal Robson-Kanu. The decision, though, paid off handsomely as the Burnley forward provided the central pivot for a rampant attacking display from Wales.

His inclusion allowed Bale to torment Russia’s defence in his roaming role, wreaking havoc as he ran relentlessly at Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski, a centre-back pairing with a combined age of 70.

Ramsey revelled in an advanced position similar to Bale’s, with Russia’s high-octane but high-risk pressing game allowing Wales too much space.

Joe Allen exposed those gaps with a brilliant assist for Wales’ opening goal, controlling the ball with a backheel before carving open the Russia defence with a pass for Ramsey, who delicately lifted his finish over the onrushing Igor Akinfeev.

Gareth Bale is the first player to score in all three group games at the European Championship since Ruud van Nistelrooy and Milan Baros in 2004

The second goal came from an unexpected source as Taylor, whose last strike was for Wrexham against Grays Athletic in the Conference in 2010, found himself unmarked at the back post.

His uncertain first effort was blocked by Akinfeev but he converted the rebound.

Leonid Slutsky’s side could not recover, and their elimination was sealed when Bale flicked the ball with the outside of his left boot and into the net despite a touch from Akinfeev.

Man of the match – Aaron Ramsey

This was arguably Aaron Ramsey’s greatest game for Wales – he scored a fine goal and threaded intricate passes at will to pick holes in the Russian defence

What they said

Wales boss Chris Coleman: “The three points are massive for us but the performance was even sweeter than the points.

“My players were brave. I don’t mean without the ball; I mean brave in possession. We were brilliant without the ball against England, but with it, we didn’t play like we know we could.

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Wales play with no fear – Coleman

“I’m absolutely made up for the players. This group are on their way to more success and this is just part of the journey they are on.

“We have to see who we get next but we play with no fear. When we play like that, why should we have any fear?”

The stats you need to know

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Euro 2016: Top-scorer Gareth Bale’s three goals for Wales
  • Gareth Bale is now Wales’ top scorer in major finals (three goals), netting one more than Ivor Allchurch (two, both at the 1958 World Cup).
  • Wales have scored four first-half goals in the competition, two more than any other side.
  • Chris Coleman’s team had nine shots on target in the first half, the most of any side in the first 45 minutes of a Euro 2016 game so far.
  • Neil Taylor’s strike was the first competitive Wales goal which did not involve Gareth Bale or Aaron Ramsey (scoring or assisting) since David Cotterill found the net against Cyprus in October 2014.

What next?

With their country having been absent from major tournaments for 58 years, several of the estimated 20,000 Wales fans would have been forgiven for being content with qualifying for Euro 2016.

However, it has been a constant refrain from Coleman, Bale and others that Wales were not travelling to France to make up the numbers as happy tourists.

Wales are here to defy expectations and they will view their last-16 fixture, whoever it may be against, as an opportunity to provide their hitherto success-starved fans with yet more memorable moments.

Live Text

Match ends, Russia 0, Wales 3.

Second Half ends, Russia 0, Wales 3.

Attempt missed. Artem Dzyuba (Russia) left footed shot from the left side of the box is too high following a corner.

Corner, Russia. Conceded by David Edwards.

Attempt blocked. Igor Smolnikov (Russia) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Artem Dzyuba.

Foul by Simon Church (Wales).

Aleksandr Samedov (Russia) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Attempt missed. Ashley Williams (Wales) header from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Aaron Ramsey with a cross following a corner.

Corner, Wales. Conceded by Sergei Ignashevich.

Attempt blocked. Aaron Ramsey (Wales) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked.

Foul by Andy King (Wales).

Aleksandr Samedov (Russia) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Attempt missed. Artem Dzyuba (Russia) right footed shot from very close range is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Pavel Mamaev with a cross.

Substitution, Wales. Simon Church replaces Gareth Bale.

Attempt missed. Sergei Ignashevich (Russia) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right from a direct free kick.

Foul by James Chester (Wales).

Aleksandr Kokorin (Russia) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Substitution, Wales. Andy King replaces Joe Ledley because of an injury.

Substitution, Wales. David Edwards replaces Joe Allen.

Foul by Pavel Mamaev (Russia).

Aaron Ramsey (Wales) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Substitution, Russia. Aleksandr Samedov replaces Fedor Smolov.

Goal! Russia 0, Wales 3. Gareth Bale (Wales) left footed shot from the left side of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Aaron Ramsey with a through ball.

Pavel Mamaev (Russia) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Foul by Pavel Mamaev (Russia).

Joe Allen (Wales) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Attempt missed. Denis Glushakov (Russia) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left.

Attempt missed. Gareth Bale (Wales) left footed shot from long range on the right is high and wide to the right from a direct free kick.

Joe Allen (Wales) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Foul by Aleksandr Golovin (Russia).

Foul by Chris Gunter (Wales).

Fedor Smolov (Russia) wins a free kick on the left wing.

Attempt missed. Neil Taylor (Wales) left footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right following a corner.

Corner, Wales. Conceded by Igor Akinfeev.

Attempt saved. Gareth Bale (Wales) left footed shot from a difficult angle on the left is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Aaron Ramsey with a through ball.

Attempt blocked. Fedor Smolov (Russia) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Aleksandr Kokorin.

Aaron Ramsey (Wales) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Denis Glushakov (Russia).

Substitution, Russia. Aleksandr Golovin replaces Roman Shirokov.

Corner, Wales. Conceded by Aleksei Berezutski.

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