Wales is headed to the knockout stages.
Aaron Ramsey opened up the scoring in the 11th minute with his first international goal in 451 days (!!!). Joe Allen set up the goal with a surgical pass though the midfield that sliced Russia wide open - just two minutes before Bale had his shot blocked just in front of goal.
Wales would go on to add another goal in the 20th minute to put the Dragons up 2-0 and put themselves in the drivers seat. They had no problem absorbing pressure and then calmly win the ball back. The Russians would have more control over the ball (a 53 to 46% margin) Gareth Bale would put the match out of reach in the 68th minute with a beautiful outside of the boot flick past the Russian keeper. It was his first goal that wasn't a free kick in the 2016 European Championship.
Bale was all over the place today, and that’s a good thing. Wales' offense is set up as such to accommodate Bale allowing him to roam to where he see’s fit. He does have a tendency to drift to the wings, and mostly to the left. You can also see where he tracked back to help on defense. He did the little things today, everything you want from a world class player, even before his goal I knew we could talk about a lot of things in the match.
He was ruthless, routinely blowing past 3, 4, 5 Russians who looked as though standing still. We all know that Bale has pace right? We can all agree on that. Check this out - in the first half Bale topped out at a speed 29 km/h, no wonder they looked like they were standing still. His runs were on point, and he didn't mind laying off passes to Ramsey as he was a favorite target of Bale's as they connected 13 times.
The Russians had a hell of a time trying to keep Bale from completely running away with things. With them closing on Bale - that left the other attackers open. They fixated a bit too much on him in my opinion.
Actually he was a menace all over the field.
He had 62 touches for the entire game. In those touches he connected 29 of 33 passes and as we mentioned above, 13 of those 29 went to Ramsey. He also went on to have three chances created. Lets take a look at his shots on goal. He missed a few, including going just wide on a free kick. It was the one in the 68th that counted.
By contrast Russia as a whole only had 12 shots, Bale had almost that many (8 if you hadn’t already counted). It’s that yellow line that means the most. That goal put the nail in the coffin for Russia..
He would be subbed off in the 87th minute to cheers from the Wales faithful.
Player Rating: 9.0
Things I Learned
The Welsh have reached the knockout stages in their only major tournament participation, back in the 1958 World Cup. Brazil, who won the tournament, knocked out Wales in the quarter-finals.
Russia have qualified for the knockout stages of the EURO only once in their four participation's since the breakup of the USSR. It was in 2008.
Russia's last three goals at the EURO finals have all been headers.
Russia had won the last three meetings between the two teams in all competitions.
Bale has scored in all three group stage matches. Two from free kicks.
Bale is a beast and a treat to watch.
I hate Aaron Ramsey's dye job.
(*Bale is a man among boys)