Every match day during Euro 2016, The National’s Premier League correspondent Greg Lea will break down every match and its key moments. Here is his analysis of Monday’s action in the tournament.
Russia 0–3 Wales: Bale leads charge for Group B winners
England’s failure to beat Slovakia meant Wales topped Group B after this thumping defeat of a Russia side who have perhaps been the worst team at the tournament.
Chris Coleman’s players signalled their intent in the opening minutes of this clash in Toulouse, allowing Russia possession of the ball but springing forward quickly to intercept any loose passes or sloppy first touches before setting off on the counter-attack.
While Russia struggled to find a way through, their lack of creation, speed, spark and invention again exposed, Wales were incisive and potent on the counter-attack.
Gareth Bale positioned himself intelligently behind midfielders Pavel Mamaev and Denis Glushakov so he could run straight at the heart of the Russian defence as soon as he was fed possession, with Joe Ledley, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey always looking to be progressive with their passing.
The Welsh players executed their manager’s game plan expertly, but facing such obliging opponents was a huge advantage.
The space Russia allowed a team who are known to be extremely dangerous on the break was staggering. Granted, Leonid Slutsky’s men needed to win to stand any chance of advancing to the round of 16, but their defensive shape was often staggering.
Not only were Wales afforded acres of room in behind the Russian backline, they were also able to exploit huge gaps in the middle of the park, with Allen, Ramsey, Bale and Sam Vokes taking advantage of a non-existent midfield to simply carry the ball through the centre of the pitch.
As Wales advance to the knockout stage full of pride and self-belief, Russia go home with a point more than their performances merited and plenty of questions that need answers.
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Slovakia 0–0 England: Frustration abounds as missed chances prove costly
For the third game running, England dominated possession, created numerous goalscoring opportunities and controlled large portions of the game.
For all that, though, Roy Hodgson’s men managed to collect only five points from meetings with Russia, Wales and Slovakia and now go through to the last 16 as group runners-up.
There can be no denying that this goalless draw was a major disappointment. England were pretty much guaranteed a place in the next round regardless of Monday’s result, but this match was still a chance for them to lay down a marker ahead of the competition heating up when 24 teams become 16 this week.
Instead, England again showed the lack of clinical edge and ruthless streak that could prevent them from reaching the final four in France, which seems to be the objective among both supporters and the Football Association.
Hodgson’s charges had plenty of chances to win this game, but poor finishing can only be excused for so long. It was the same problem against Russia and Wales, and a failure to put away opportunities will eventually cost them their place at the tournament.
The cautious optimism that accompanied England before the competition got under way has been severely dented. Throwing away first place in the group could come back to haunt them.
Player of the day
Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey were excellent, so too Eric Dier for England and Matus Kozacik for Slovakia, but Joe Allen takes the prize for yet another impressive all-round display in the Wales engine room.
Goal of the day
Wales’ first was a sign of things to come, with the ball pinched in midfield and transferred forwards quickly – their main method of attack all night. Joe Allen’s incisive through-ball cut Russia open, before Aaron Ramsey collected it in his stride and applied a lovely dinked finish to give the Welsh the lead.
Howler of the day
Things could have been even worse for England had Chris Smalling’s casual chest control in his own penalty area been punished by Robert Mak.
Moment of the day
Wales’ players and supporters were understandably jubilant after securing first place in Group B, with Joe Ledley’s dance moves the undoubted highlight of the celebrations.
Statistic of the day
England have won only four matches at international tournaments since the 2006 World Cup.
Thing to look forward to
Croatia v Spain is a meeting of the two most impressive sides at Euro 2016 so far.
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