Wales 0–3 England
by Dom Smith
The people wanted Phil Foden. What they got was Foden, a Foden goal, and a comprehensive win over Wales that saw England top Group B and canter into the knockout stages of this World Cup. Gareth Southgate has been pilloried by England fans for not releasing the proverbial handbrake. It was lifted in the second half here. Wales were tiring; Marcus Rashford and Foden were flying down either side; England were returning to form after their tough meeting with the USA on Friday.
England had only won their final group game at one World Cup this century. A win would guarantee them top spot in Group B and a meeting with Senegal on Sunday in the round of 16. Their opponents, neighbours Wales, were battered and bruised, beaten at the death by Iran on Friday and clinging on to their existence in this tournament for dear life. Could Rob Page’s side turn the page and rob England of a place in the second round? They’d need to win 4–0 and hope the other result in the group went their way. Welsh fingers were crossed and quivering.
Upon first viewing, they couldn’t even contain England. Harry Kane played a defence-splitting pass that had Chris Mepham on the floor, swiping his leg at mere air. Rashford was through on goal but his chip was well smothered by Danny Ward — in for Wayne Hennessey who was rightly sent off against Iran.Embed from Getty Images
But besides a Foden shot in anger after good work by Jude Bellingham, Wales defended diligently and England looked once again stifled by inferior opposition. In another very rare opening on 39 minutes, Jordan Henderson’s deflected cross reached Rashford in the box. The Manchester United forward’s bicycle kick was the right idea but lacked the execution. Off his shin and wide of the post it flew.
You wondered at half-time whether this 104th meeting between the sides — England’s first with a fellow UK nation at a World Cup — might prove a snoozefest. Another one. Had they fallen for the first cliché of tournament football and peaked too early with that trouncing of Iran last Monday?
Gareth Bale was replaced with a suspected injury by Brennan Johnson at the break. Wales had lost their talisman. Soon they lost their heads. And the game. And their World Cup status.
Foden, according to the noise of the last week, is the Saviour of the great nation of England. Manchester City’s supremely talented 22-year-old is a player who Southgate has failed to get the best of during his time in charge. Foden ran at Wales, was nudged with minimal contact by Mepham, and England had a soft free-kick. Up stepped Rashford. It crashed home. Over the wall and into the net — a second tournament goal for Rashford and a second in Qatar. England had lift off five minutes into the second half. They’d remembered how to score.
The England train was off and running, steaming out of the station with Wales soon to be left waiting for the next one home. 98 seconds after Rashford had broken the deadlock, England had broken Welsh hearts again. An error by Ben Davies helped his Tottenham teammate Kane in. Kane is yet to score at these finals but just as for Raheem Sterling against Iran, he turned provider with a delicious no-look pass. Foden came storming in to slide in his third England goal. Oh how timely.Embed from Getty Images
Every tournament has a clamour man. Rashford was him in Russia in 2018. Then Jack Grealish at Euro 2020. Now Foden. Here he was, starting, starring, scoring for England. The people were finally happy. Just wait. It’ll be James Maddison if England start poorly against the Senegalese. That is the nature of the unsturdy seat upon which Southgate sits.
Wales drew with the United States and lost to Iran and with this defeat their second-ever World Cup campaign petered out into sheer disappointment. Yet they reminded England of their presence when ex-England C international Kieffer Moore shot on goal — his effort rebounding off Harry Maguire and forcing a smart change of direction from Jordan Pickford to keep it out.
With all due respect to Wales, Southgate has bigger fish to fry. He and England face Senegal on Sunday as they enter the business end of this tournament. So he gave some of his stars a breather when Kane, Declan Rice and Kyle Walker were replaced by Callum Wilson, Kalvin Phillips and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
England’s momentum did not suffer. In the 68th minute, Phillips played an excellent long, raking pass right over the Welsh defence. Rashford escaped, latched on, slowed, checked back and fired low and through Ward’s dive to notch England’s 100th World Cup goal. 3–0 England, the group safely topped, the mindset already shifting to Sunday.
Rashford lost a friend to a long battle with cancer a few days ago. “I’m pleased I managed to score for him”, Rashford said. “He’s always been a big supporter of mine. He was just a great person.” In front of a global gaze, he was finally shining at the very highest level. Rashford was always supposed to light up a World Cup. That World Cup has arrived.
Rashford and Bellingham were denied by Ward, and John Stones inexplicably blazed over from six yards out in stoppage time with England still hunting for goals late on. They didn’t find another, but they didn’t need one.
Written by Dom Smith; sub-edited by Luke Widdowson