Gareth Bale scored yet again (his third in this competition) as Wales beat Russia 3-0 to finish top of Group B on Monday night at Stadium de Toulouse. It was one of those nights that will go down into the Wales folklore, and one that Wales fans will talk about for ages. Appearing for the first time in a major tournament in 58 years, their incredible journey so far is nothing short of a fairytale stuff.
Wales were dominant from start to finish has hardly kept their foot off the gas against Russia. The interesting aspect about their approach was they hardly switched off in 90 minutes and kept on creating pressure and goal scoring opportunities. Chris Coleman will proudly take his side to Parc des Princes for a knockout last 16 tie where they could face Northern Ireland.
While I get the jokes that Wales being called as ‘Bales’ on social media platforms, but they are certainly not a one-man team. However, when you have the world’s most expensive player around, you ought to look at him for inspiration. Chris Coleman notes that “at times, he’s carried the team” and such is his impact that he makes everyone else better.
In the 11th minute, Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen produced a sublime through pass (a timely reminder that Brendan Rodgers wasn’t absolutely wrong when he called him a ‘Welsh Xavi”) for Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey’s first goal. Within 20 minutes, Wales went 2-0 up, when Neil Taylor scored his first goal for his country. The Russian defence was all over the place and despite missing his initial effort (Akinfeev parried the danger) he could still score on the rebound. It was an all-around team effort but once again, it’s Bale, who stepped up as the real star of the show. No wonder, why Manchester United are so keen to sign him up and are even reportedly willing to pay £94m for his signature.
It took him only a minute to stamp his authority on the game. He took a pass from Allen, cut inside and unleashed a shot on target. Bale nearly turned into a provider when he found Vokes clear 12 yards out, only to be saved by Akinfeev with his feet.
The Russians had no answer to his bursting runs and clever movements. He was denied again in the 55th minute when Akinfeev did well to deflect his chipped effort wide of the target.
Eventually, he got the goal with a subtle finish, but Ramsey deserves a huge piece of credit for setting him up after nudging past three defenders.