England marched into the last 16 of the World Cup as Group B winners after Marcus Rashford’s double and a Phil Foden strike justified their first starts of the tournament in a 3-0 hammering of an outclassed Wales on Tuesday.
Wales, who needed a four-goal victory in a fixture they had not won since 1984 to reach the knockout phase, defended deeply and frustrated Gareth Southgate’s side in a subdued first half at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.
Wales could also have reached the last 16 with a victory if the match between Iran and the United States ended level, but any hope of that scenario unfolding evaporated rapidly once Rashford smashed home a curling free kick five minutes after the break following a foul on Foden by Ethan Ampadu.
A minute later Foden, who England fans and pundits have been urging Southgate to start, made it 2-0 as Wales carelessly lost possession and Harry Kane crossed low for the Manchester City player to convert from close range.
Wales, whose talisman Gareth Bale was substituted at halftime due to a slight hamstring strain having touched the ball only seven times, looked crestfallen as their first World Cup for 64 years fizzled out.
Manchester United’s Rashford place in the squad was uncertain a few months ago due to form and injuries but he is now the tournament’s joint-top scorer with three goals alongside Kylian Mbappe (France), Enner Valencia (Ecuador) and Cody Gakpo (Netherlands).
But they will go into their last-16 clash full of confidence, especially as they are showing they can score goals even when the hard-working Kane, who was given a rest when he was substituted just before the hour, is not finding the net.
“It’s a great feeling,” Rashford said. “We were a little bit disappointed after the USA result and it was important to have a good performance the next game. It was just about killing the game off early and taking the chances…”
For Wales, their return to the World Cup was all too brief as they finished bottom with a point and only one goal.
The first-ever all-British clash at a World Cup lacked the drama many had envisaged when Wales sealed their place in Qatar by beating Ukraine in a playoff.
Their fans belted out a rousing rendition of the unofficial anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau before kickoff but had little to shout about after that as England ultimately made their class tell.
For Bale, whose career has scaled dazzling heights, it was an anti-climactic end to his first, and probably last World Cup.
“To be at a World Cup, if you’d asked us that two years ago we’d have all pinched ourselves,” Bale said.
“It’s disappointing to go out but we will all walk out of that changing room with our heads held high proud of each other.”