Toulouse, June 21 (IANS) Wales rode on excellent performances from Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale to inflict an embarrassing 3-0 loss on Russia at the Stadium de Toulouse here on Monday to claim first place in Group B and head into the knockout stages of Euro 2016.
The Arsenal midfielder and the Real Madrid forward are in red hot form currently. While Ramsey has been one of the fulcrums of the Wales attack, Bale has netted three goals in three matches to lead the scoring charts, reports EFE.
Bale has equalled the record of Milan Baros of the Czech Republic and Netherlands’ Ruud van Nistelrooy, both of whom scored in each of their first three games at Euro 2004.
The three goals made the Real Madrid star the all-time top scorer for Wales in major tournaments ahead of Ivor Allchurch, who collected two in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.
Wales last participated in a major tournament at the 1958 World Cup in which they reached the quarter-finals. Since then, top class footballers like Ian Rush and Ryan Giggs have been unable to lead Wales on the biggest stage.
However, Bale scored seven goals in the qualifying rounds of Euro 2016, dragging Wales into a major tournament after a 58-year wait.
Bale and Ramsey have been instrumental in an impressive collective performance which has allowed the Welsh side to exceed expectations and exact a measure of revenge for the Ryan Giggs-led squad that lost a play-off to Russia during the qualifying stages of Euro 2004.
Russia were clumsy and careless in possession and it didn’t take long for the Welsh to make them pay.
Joe Allen pounced on an errant Russian pass in the 11th minute and delivered a beautiful ball to Ramsey, whose clinical finish left goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev with no hope.
Neil Taylor made it 2-0 for Wales in the 20th minute, converting on his second try after taking a long pass from Bale.
Headed for elimination, the Russians generated only one chance in the first half and Welsh keeper Wayne Hennessey was equal to the challenge when Artem Dzyuba let loose in the 27th minute.
Russia were equally ineffective in defence and Wales might have led 6-0 at the half but for Akinfeev’s heroics.
An unmarked Bale got the ball in the box in the 68th minute and beat Akinfeev to bring the score to 3-0.
Wales ended the group stage with six points. They are one ahead of second placed England, who were held scoreless on Monday by Slovakia.
“It’s hard to describe. (It was) an unbelievable occasion and it’s definitely right up there. I think, for the pressure of the game, the way we played was probably one of the best team performances I’ve been involved in,” Bale told reporters.
“Obviously we’ve had some amazing nights over the last few years but that was really incredible and to top the group as well was an even better feeling, and one that we want to keep having.”
Meanwhile in Saint-Etienne, England were held to a 0-0 draw with Slovakia in their final group stage match, squandering a golden opportunity to enter the pre-quarterfinals as group winners.
This result also means that the Slovaks still have hopes of advancing as one of the best third-place finishers.
England started as the clear favourites, having never lost to Slovakia, but came up against a solid defence led by the long-time anchor of Liverpool’s backline, Martin Skrtel.
Responding to popular demand, England coach Roy Hodgson fielded a starting 11 that included both Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge up front while captain Wayne Rooney began the day on the bench, though he came on in the 55th minute, replacing an ineffective Jack Wilshere.
The English set the pace throughout the first half, but the absence of Rooney — recently retooled as a playmaker — translated into fewer balls going forward for Vardy and Sturridge.
Even so, Vardy got his chances, the best coming in the 15th minute when the Leicester City star received a deep ball and eluded Skrtel, but could not beat Slovakia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik.
A rocket from Adam Lallana approaching the half-hour mark forced a tremendous save from Kozacik. Dele Alli, who came on for Lallana with 30 minutes left, saw what looked like a sure goal turned aside on the line by Skrtel.
England end the opening phase with five points, one behind Wales and one ahead of Slovakia.