Wales didn’t just ease through to the knockout stage of Euro 2016. They absolutely cruised into the last 16 with an ultra-dominant 3-0 win over Russia in Toulouse which will go down as one of the greatest nights in Welsh football history.
With Aaron Ramsey in inspired form and Gareth Bale running amok at every opportunity, this was Wales at their very best. It felt like their night from the very first minute when Bale went dancing through the Russia defence and forced a save from Igor Akinfeev. He was only going to become more influential from there.
Ramsey underlined his importance to the Welsh cause not only with his delightfully-lofted goal which broke the deadline 10 minutes in, but also a performance of real maturity and genuine international quality in the final third.
For as much as Bale is the boss in this team, Ramsey is the brains behind the operation. Every time Bale makes a run one way, Ramsey is exploiting the space left behind in the other direction. The second the Real Madrid star finds markers on his back, the Arsenal man becomes Wales’ most important player and on nights like this he seemingly revels in the role.
If there was any doubt whether Wales were going to get the job done it was extinguished when Neil Taylor made the most of a Bale run to slide home their second goal on 20 minutes. So rare was the Swansea full-back’s goal, it was his first ever at professional level and his first of any description since netting for Wrexham against Grays Athletic in front of 283 people at a fifth-tier fixture in April 2010.
From there, the Welsh attacks were plentiful. Every time they ventured into the Russian half they looked ready to plunder more goals. If anything, they should have had an even bigger cushion by the break. The ease with which Wales cut their opposition to shreds said at least as much about Russia’s atrocious defending as it did about the Welsh themselves. Leonid Slutski’s side somehow sunk to new depths from those which saw them torn apart by England and then humiliated by Marek Hamsik’s one-man assault for Slovakia.
Their poor excuse for a defensive shape allowed Wales to pick them off at will. Chris Coleman’s men constantly had time and space to shoot on sight, resulting in a tournament-high of nine shots on target in their dominant first half.
For every bad headline attracted by their fans in this tournament, Russia have been just as abject on the pitch and the competition will be better off for the exit of a team who have done little more than go through the motions in any of their games.
They were heading home long before Bale completed their misery with the goal he’d deserved from his eighth shot of the night from Ramsey’s pass midway through the second half. That he’d managed so many efforts at goal in 67 minutes spoke volumes about Russia’s inability to deal with him. It also proved that Bale has everything it takes to be an influential figure at this tournament on a wider scale.
For Coleman, this was a perfect night. He would have been seeing a hundred different possibilities in his sleep over the last few nights as he attempted to weigh up how things might pan out in Wales’ push for a last-16 spot. A comfortable 3-0 win and a place at the top of Group B was the dream scenario coming true in the most glorious fashion.
“Let's all have a disco,” sang the Welsh fans as the clock ran down at the Stade Municipal and many of their Russian counterparts headed for an early exit. Wales' party is only just starting.