Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford on target as England ease past Wales

Gareth Southgate’s team score two goals early in second half to top Group B

There is an Albert Einstein quote about the intelligent fool making things more complex, while it takes a touch of genius and deep courage to move in the opposite direction. Gareth Southgate, since Friday, has kept it simple by delving into his ridiculous talent pool to build England’s entire World Cup adventure around Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford.

Rashford rammed home why Manchester United manager Erik Ten Hag was right to supplant Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford this season, scoring two goals that used to be part of the Portuguese attacker’s repertoire, but mostly it was Foden, a generational talent for any country, who sends England storming into the last 16, where they play Senegal back at the Al Bayt stadium on Sunday.

Speaking of a generational footballer, Gareth Bale did not reappear for the second-half due to a tight hamstring. The Welsh maestro’s first and last World Cup delivered one ferociously struck penalty to save a point against the US, but the 33 year old looked precisely who he has become – a Major League Soccer player.

Bale’s presence after half-time would have made as much of difference as he did in the opening 45 minutes. The Los Angeles FC man made no impact in a sad ending.


“I don’t think it is the last time you will see Gareth in a Welsh jersey,” said Wales manager Rob Page.

Simply put, Wales could not cope with England and five minutes into the second period Rashford profited from Foden’s mazy run off the left – after the pair swapped wings – to be eventually hauled down by Chris Mepham.

Rashford let fly from 25 metres, a Ronaldo-type effort that went over Leicester City goalkeeper Danny Ward and into the top corner. It was an inevitable release, but a release all the same, as the 25 year old took a few seconds to breathe deep and point to the sky.

“Unfortunately I lost a friend a couple of days ago,” Rashford explained. “He had a pretty long battle with cancer. I ‘m glad I could score a goal for him. He was a person who came into my life and has been very close to me.”

Drink it in, because there’s more. Not 60 seconds passed before England made it 2-0. Ben Davies, Wales’ only Champions League operator, had the ball dislodged by Rashford, it fell to Harry Kane who put a deadly low assist across the goal for Foden to finish with aplomb.

The Welsh reds behind the far goal braced themselves for an awful evening in Al Rayyan.

England remain contenders to win this tournament. Southgate took plenty of flak for not mixing up the team from the 6-2 thrashing of Iran for a leggy, scoreless showing with the US four days ago, but the ends justify the means.

Two elemental changes stand out. Adding Jordan Henderson’s steady presence to midfield meant that the West Ham United version of Declan Rice appeared, as the former Ireland international was no longer solely responsible for protecting a back three, getting himself up field where he can do damage.

This tweak almost delivered an England goal on 10 minutes when Rice fed Kane, who glanced up and saw Rashford destroying Neco Williams for pace. Mepham flung his body in the way of Kane’s low ball but Rashford still got a soft, upward connection that was only denied by Ward dashing from goal to save with a desperate left forearm.

The other ace up Southgate’s sleeve was Foden. The clamour to add the 22 year old to the team has been relentless since Al Bayt, for obvious reasons, and it became apparent at Ahmad bin Ali stadium.

The Manchester City star was England’s best player, with two flashes of brilliance unlucky not to result in first half goals. The new 4-3-3 approach was extremely fluid, with Kyle Walker also coming into the side to add punch down the right. On 37 minutes Foden started and almost finished an English gem, feeding Henderson before Jude Bellingham and Walker touches gave the overlapping dynamo a sight of the top corner. Foden swivelled, but blazed into the Welsh crowd.

Wales were outclassed, and not helped by Williams falling foul of a head injury, despite being allowed to remain on the pitch for at least 15 minutes after Rashford’s rasping effort caught him on the dome.

“Neco took a blow to the head. He passed the initial test,” said Page of the on-pitch examination. “We followed the Fifa guidelines. He showed symptoms and we took him off. We covered the protocols and the Fifa doctor okayed it.”

After Rashford’s shinned overhead kick missed the target, Foden burst down hill, evading Joe Rodon and beating Davies, skipping through the middle and laying off to Kane, who brought Rashford into the thrilling onslaught. The United forward failed to find his frustrated City team-mate.

But the Manchester boys owned this Doha night, with Foden recovering from Roden’s heavy challenge – he can expect more of the same from the Senegalese.

Fancy this, Rashford’s second doubled as England’s 100th World Cup goal. Kalvin Phillips reintroduced his powerful frame to the international arena, arrowing a pass down the right. There was plenty still to do but a step over by Rashford did Connor Robert before his low shot went in off Ward’s leg.

The English could have run up a cricket score on their Welsh neighbours, who also lost a hamstrung Joe Allen, but nobody spared Gianni Infantino when the Fifa president’s smiling mug appeared on the big screen. The resounding boos crumbled his face in a priceless moment.

The people told Infantino the truth as England avoid the Dutch, who play the US on Saturday, and discovered their best team in the same memorable moment.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent