Wales send Russia packing
Wales enjoyed one of the greatest nights in their football history as they brushed aside Russia 3-0 in Toulouse to win Group B at Euro 2016.
England’s goalless draw with Slovakia opened the door for Wales to take top spot and they barged right through it with goals from Aaron Ramsey, Neil Taylor and Gareth Bale.
Wales will now head to Paris on Saturday to play a best third-placed team and there will be real hope now that they can go even further in this tournament.
On a night when Russia had to win to keep their own hopes alive, they were simply blown apart by a red machine - Wales being allowed by UEFA to wear their home strip before kick-off.
Bale was too hot to handle - scoring his third goal of the tournament in as many matches - and Ramsey ran the show in midfield as Wales dominated in all departments to shrug off the pain of their last-gasp defeat to England on Thursday.
All four places in the group were open to Wales at the start of the game so there was an air of tension at kick-off.
But it seemed to be removed in the first minute when Bale was allowed to run at the Russia defence.
Wales have been criticised for not getting Bale into the game enough during this tournament, but the Real Madrid forward began his personal battle with Igor Akinfeev when he tested the Russia goalkeeper with a stinging shot.
Wales did not have to wait long for the breakthrough as James Chester intercepted a pass on the halfway line for Joe Allen to split the Russia defence with a superb pass.
Ramsey had timed his run perfectly to keep himself onside and he produced a finish to match by lofting the ball over Akinfeev as he advanced.
There was more to come just nine minutes later as Bale again made a nuisance of himself and Roman Shirakov poked the ball into Taylor’s path.
The wing-back is not noted for his scoring ability and Akinfeev blocked his first attempt, but Taylor made no mistake with the rebound as he smashed a half-volley into the net.
Russia had their moments, Artem Dzyuba almost profiting as Ashley Williams failed to cut out Akinfeev’s towering kick and Aleksandr Korkorin’s shot was deflected wide, but they could not cope with Welsh pace on the break.
Fuelled by the energy and enthusiasm of Ramsey, Wales cut through almost at will as Russia’s ageing defence creaked time and again.
Bale’s 70-yard burst took him past several defenders and when the ball broke to Sam Vokes the Russia defence were grateful for Akinfeev’s agility.
It was not the last time in a frantic first half as Akinfeev stopped Ramsey’s powerful drive and smothered two more Bale attempts with Wales threatening to score from every attack.
Russia swapped one twin for another at half-time - Aleksei Berezutski coming on for his brother, Vasili - but stopping Bale running free was not a case of simply keeping it in the family.
Akinfeev saved twice more from Bale as Russia threw caution to the wind and there was more danger when they conceded a free-kick 30 yards from goal.
Bale had the Euros record in his sights after successful strikes against Slovakia and England, but there was to be no history-making goal as this time his effort drifted wide of the near post.
However, there was no way Bale was going to be denied from getting on the scoresheet and he finally did so after 67 minutes.
Ramsey ran at the Russian defence, slipping one way and the other before finding Bale through, clearly onside, to poke the ball past Akinfeev.
After that it was one long celebration for Wales fans, who gave standing ovations to Allen, Bale and Joe Ledley when they were substituted and hailed manager Chris Coleman.
And special cheers were reserved for news of England’s result which confirmed Wales as group winners.