Wales fans feel pride and despair but not anger after swift World Cup exit | World Cup 2022

It felt a little like a bride walking down the aisle on her special day, only for her dearly beloved to be staring at the reams of toilet paper that were stuck to her shoes. After all the hype and expectation, it wasn’t meant to be like this. A must-win game against our next door neighbours, to stand any chance of progression in our first World Cup for 64 years. Wales 0 England 3. Is this the way the future’s meant to feel?

Unlike the writers in some other newspapers, I am able to experience two emotions at once, with neither being anger. Enormous pride that we qualified. Incredible disappointment that we are going home. But it is disappointment with context. It is far better to get knocked out of a World Cup than not to get to one in the first place. What was so frustrating about the great qualification failures of my time as a supporter – Euro 92, USA 94, Euro 2004 and Russia 2018 – was the feeling of unfinished business, a cosmic unfairness that prevented footballers who were good enough to play on the biggest stage from doing so.

On the BBC Gary Lineker asked Ian Rush what the younger members of the Wales squad will have learned from Qatar. After talking briefly about the atmosphere, Rush said: “I don’t know, I never played at a World Cup.” Rush scored 346 career goals for Liverpool, won the European Cup and European Golden Boot, and yet failed at the final hurdle for his country. Tuesday night has to be better than that.

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For a team that have taken the supporters to such uncharted territory – qualification for three of the past four tournaments, a Euros semi-final and a World Cup playoff win – there is the foreboding sense of an era coming to a close. It won’t be as dramatic a rebuild as under John Toshack, when the senior members of Mark Hughes’s team retired en masse, seven within months of Toshack’s appointment. In those days Toshack would wearily tell the press that it wasn’t the current qualification campaign that was important for his team of teenagers, or the next one, but the next one. It seemed to be a race against time – could Wales qualify before the government banned diesel cars? Could we qualify before driverless cars?

The team will know better than anyone that they underperformed. Too few of our important squad members are playing regularly for their clubs, or they are carrying injuries into a tournament where the slightest inadequacy is brutally exposed. Tactical errors were made. Away from the comforting emotional churn of the Cardiff City Stadium, a ground where over the past eight years Wales have almost forgotten how to lose, in Qatar they looked as if they had forgotten how to win. Charged with being ambassadors for a country undergoing the catharsis of qualification as well as being footballers competing under the harshest of spotlights, the frustration of putting in three of the worst Wales performances since the age of BlackBerry messenger will live with these players for a lifetime.

Gareth Bale leads the celebrations of Wales’ winner against Ukraine in the qualifying playoff in the home comforts of Cardiff City Stadium
Gareth Bale leads the celebrations of Wales’ winner against Ukraine in the qualifying playoff in the home comforts of Cardiff City Stadium. Photograph: Visionhaus/Getty Images

Because unlike some Wales teams of the past, no one can accuse them of not being committed. The supporters stayed at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on Tuesday night to show their appreciation for a group of men who have taken us to places we never thought we’d go. So many of our previous World Cup qualification campaigns were over by the third game, at which point attending matches became a chore, before it became an afterthought, to an irrelevance.

But this team have commanded centre stage for so long that it’s difficult to imagine a return to the fallow periods of the past. Thankfully, we have 146 years of history to guard us from this complacency. Being below Haiti and North Korea in the Fifa rankings is part of our story. Losing 7-1 against the Netherlands, in a game where extraordinarily the goalkeeper Neville Southall was man of the match, has shaped our expectations. The Football Association of Wales was unable to afford an under-21s team for six and a half years in the 1980s. Tuesday night was definitely better than that.

Ultimately, this tournament will be remembered for what happened off the pitch, as opposed to on it. Seeing Wales shirts on sale at Doha airport. The primary school girl from Cardiff who said: “Mate, I’m fuming about this,” when asked by Channel 4 for her reaction to the result against Iran. Singing with supporters from other countries in scenes that felt reminiscent of those Fifa corporate videos that are mocked by everyone apart from the execs who signed them off. The new, unfamiliar feeling that we’d been invited to the party, as opposed to staring at the revelry on tiptoes with our noses pressed against the window. None of this can mask meagre performances. But it does explain why the players were sung, rather than booed, off the pitch.

Wales and USA fans on the Doha metro.
‘Scenes reminiscent of Fifa corporate videos’: Wales and USA fans on the Doha metro. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

Footballers often process defeat differently to supporters, the experience of feeling second best on the field contrasting with the helplessness experienced from the stands. The players are a conduit for our jubilation, but for too long Wales fans had to make their own fun as we were let down by sides who weren’t good enough. Aside from the hosts Qatar, Wales was the smallest nation at this World Cup, although Uruguay are not far behind. Croatia and Denmark have proven how small countries can consistently punch above their weight at international level. Following their example must now be the ambition.

Gareth Bale confirmed that Tuesday night wouldn’t be his final game in a Wales shirt, and mentioned the connection with the supporters. Social media was full of fans planning the trip to Croatia in March for the first game of our Euro 2024 qualification campaign. Wales away has always been about more than the football. Qualification to a World Cup was always about more than the football. I never thought I’d see a player as good as Rush, and then Ryan Giggs came along. I never thought I’d see a better player than Giggs, and then Bale was beamed down from space. Until our next superstar arrives, a fanbase now used to success may have to be patient. Yma o Hyd.

Elis James has donated his fee for this column to Amnesty International, which is campaigning for Qatar and Fifa to establish a compensation fund for migrant workers.

Wales need evolution on the pitch despite World Cup successes off it | Wales

At the outset Gareth Bale said Wales’s first World Cup since 1958 was about more than football and to that end at least they probably delivered. “Hopefully in the future when you speak to people from other countries they won’t ask where Wales is,” he said.

After leading Wales out of the tunnel to face England on Tuesday, he sipped on some water, chucked his bottle down towards the throng of photographers snapping away furiously pitchside and proceeded to rattle through the pre-match formalities. Lopsided team photograph. Another with match officials. Handshake with the referee. Lock hands with Harry Kane. Hand Kane a pennant stitched in Welsh. And – hang on a minute – give Kane a tricolour bucket hat.

On the eve of their Group B opener against the USA, Ben Davies made a slice of World Cup history by conducting a press conference entirely in Cymraeg, Welsh. For their second game, against Iran, teachers at Aaron Ramsey’s old school, Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni in Caerphilly, scrapped the timetable so that children – one wearing a Wales shirt with the words Yma o Hyd, Dafydd Iwan’s rousing anthem, the title of which has become a motto for many – could watch the game together.

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Welsh tattoo parlours have reported an influx of Yma o Hyd requests. Carlos Querioz, the Iran head coach, made a point of praising the Red Wall, part of a charm offensive that perhaps influenced Wales’s loyal fan base when applauding Iran’s players on their post-match victory lap.

Job done? The reason for pointing out all of this is that Wales games have grown organically into something more than fans supporting 11 players trying to do a goal, into a showcase of national pride and cultural heritage guaranteed to warm the soul regardless of the result.

The bucket hat, for example, has become synonymous with Wales fans, to the point where on match days it is easier to spot those not wearing one. In recent months the Football Association of Wales put 10ft bucket hat art installations in Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham to celebrate their place on the biggest stage on a platform decorated with the words Cymru ar ben y byd, Wales on top of the world. Another giant bucket hat was launched on Doha’s waterfront, ironically the day before fans had rainbow-coloured bucket hats confiscated at the Ahmad bin Ali stadium.

Giving a red, yellow and green bucket hat to England’s captain, Tyler Adams and Ehsan Hajsafi does not mask what has been a deeply disappointing tournament on the pitch, one place where Wales certainly failed to make a lasting mark. “Welcome to the big show,” was Querioz’s warm introductory message before the two nations met, but Wales got stage fright and went missing.

Wales head home to Cardiff with one point and one goal to their name. “Everyone looked at the group and thought: ‘Maybe they’ll do this or that’ but we played against three very good teams,” said the defender Connor Roberts. “I know England blew Iran away, but they are no mugs and they showed that against us.”

Rob Page said the frustration really rankles because his team did not show their true colours. But maybe this is just where Wales are at now, the leading lights of the team dimmed. Ever since taking the reins, at first on a temporary basis and then permanently, signing a four-year contract in September, Page has spoken of key players regularly turning up for duty undercooked. Bale and Ramsey moved to California and the south of France respectively, effectively to prepare for this tournament, but the cautious optimism now looks misplaced.

Page will review his options between now and March, when Wales begin their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign in Croatia. By the time that tournament comes around, Bale will be touching 35, Joe Allen 34 and Ramsey 33. There is unlikely to be great change but Wales must evolve. Joe Rodon, Neco Williams and Brennan Johnson, will surely be given responsibility. The same goes for Ethan Ampadu who at the age of 22 has amassed 40 caps, as many as John Toshack and more than John Charles. Ampadu headed down the tunnel in tears at full-time on Tuesday.

Ethan Ampadu on the ball for Wales against England.
Ethan Ampadu on the ball against England – the Chelsea player currently on loan at Spezia will be central to Wales’s future plans. Photograph: Markus Gilliar/GES Sportfoto/Getty Images

“We’ll have a look at the squad and if there are young players out there that we need to push and promote, now’s the time to do it,” Page said after the 3-0 evisceration by England.

One of those will surely be the 17-year-old Luke Harris, a precocious talent viewed by Page as “the future of Welsh football” who signed a professional contract with Fulham in September, a month before making his Premier League debut. The Jersey-born No 10 was spotted aged 14 at a tournament on Guernsey by Malcolm Elias, Fulham’s chief academy scout who was influential in the development of Bale and Luke Shaw.

Bale has been at pains to provide some perspective in recent days, and rightly so. Aside from the hosts, Wales, with a population of three million, were the smallest nation in Qatar. Many supporters were resigned to never seeing Wales on the biggest stage. In 2011, they were 117th in the Fifa rankings, sandwiched between Haiti and Grenada.

Perhaps gripes about Wales’s failure to lay a glove on three top-20 ranked opponents and reach the knockout stage at a World Cup can wait. “It’s a little bit disappointing, but for a lot of the players – myself included – I am ecstatic to be able to say that I represented my country at a World Cup,” Roberts said. The feeling of pride is mutual.

Gareth Southgate has a dilemma: try dropping Foden or Rashford now | World Cup 2022

You have to hand it to England, really. Few other nations can score nine goals and qualify top of their group and still provoke a debate about whether they are fit for purpose. In a way, there is a kind of genius to the perpetual dissatisfaction of the English: not so much a tyranny of expectations as a police state of expectations, a fascism of expectations.

But just for argument’s sake, let’s start with the caveats. After all, how much did we actually learn here? For all their vivid noise, Wales have essentially been gristle at this tournament: the ghosts at the edge of the photograph. There was a certain sadness in seeing the great Gareth Bale shuffled away at half‑time in what will almost certainly be his last World Cup, having tiptoed through this game the way he has tiptoed through most of this tournament, like a man going to the bathroom at 4am.

Likewise, to say Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson won the battle in the centre is to damn them with faint praise. A set of dining chairs could have won the midfield battle against Wales. England could simply work the ball around them, safe in the knowledge that Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey would back off at the first sign of trouble. Good luck trying that against Nampalys Mendy and Pape Gueye in the last 16.

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This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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And yet in this languid slow burn of a performance there were still certain conclusions that could be drawn with clarity. Jude Bellingham is the real thing. The defence still looks pretty confident. Indeed it was Harry Maguire who provided perhaps the warmest moment of a tepid first half: storming out of defence like a guy who’s just heard the first few notes of Hips Don’t Lie on the dancefloor, and shanking a fierce left-foot shot into the desert.

That first half was, let’s be honest, pretty thin. It wasn’t simply slow and laboured, although it was obviously also both those things. At times it was almost comically inept: players making the same run, players running into each other. Everything England tried seemed to congeal in a little fetid no‑man’s land about 45 yards from goal, from where the only options were to play it backwards or try a hopeless dinky cross. Perhaps this was Southgate’s personal homage to Alf Ramsey’s wingless wonders of 1966, only this time with wingers simply running into each other.

The problem here was that everyone seemed to want to play in the same space. Rashford on the left wanted to cut inside on to his stronger foot. Foden on the right wanted to cut inside on to his stronger foot. Henderson likes to drift into the channels. Bellingham also likes to drift into the channels. Harry Kane likes to drop deep to receive. The effect was a kind of footballing Hanger Lane gyratory: a cortege of extremely talented footballers essentially converging on the same spot and rotating very slowly around each other.

Typical Gareth. Boring Gareth. Stubborn Gareth. As the teams disappeared down the tunnel at half-time you could almost feel the heat from the steam of a million middle-aged Englishmen collectively boiling their piss. A bright start had disintegrated into a staid passing circle, which as everyone knows is the wokest of all the shapes. But One Trick Gareth had a second trick up his sleeve. And it didn’t even involve a substitution.

Marcus Rashford’s free kick flies past Wales keeper Danny Ward.
Marcus Rashford’s free kick flies past Wales keeper Danny Ward. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

So it was a few minutes into the second half that Foden, now restored to his favoured left flank, slalomed past three Wales players, winning a free-kick that Rashford slotted beautifully into the top corner. Less than two minutes later Rashford, now given the freedom of the right wing, won the ball from Ben Davies, allowing Kane to play Foden in for his first tournament goal.

All of a sudden England were attacking from new angles, different angles, stretching the pitch and so stretching Wales. It’s not a tactic that will work against every opponent in every situation. But in a way, this is the point.

For Southgate now has a quiet dilemma on his hands. Bukayo Saka has had a good tournament; Raheem Sterling is his talisman; Mason Mount his rock. But you try dropping Foden and Rashford after a second half like that. And so whither Bellingham in that clever, chaotic No 10 role? Against stronger opposition England will almost certainly revert to a back three, the wing-backs pushing up, the wide forwards inverted. But Southgate’s timely switch has shown that there are other plans to hand, other ways of winning.

Jude Bellingham

And if England are going to go deep in this tournament, this is probably how they are going to have to do it. They have not enjoyed the luxury of extensive preparation time. They do not have a generational talent such as Kylian Mbappé or Lionel Messi. And so you simply have to keep switching the masks as you go, leave opponents guessing, move the points of attack. A cynic might offer that three games into the tournament Southgate still has no idea of his best team. An optimist might counter that on the contrary, he has several.

Wales 0-3 England: player ratings from the World Cup Group B game | World Cup 2022

Wales (4-4-1-1)

Danny Ward (GK) Stepped to his right before Rashford’s free-kick and was unable to adjust in time. 4/10

Neco Williams (RB) Stuck with Rashford but was forced off with a suspected concussion in the first half after heading a powerful Rashford shot. 5

Joe Rodon (CB) Battled hard but could not keep the defensive effort going when England raised their level. 4

Chris Mepham (CB) Caught out when Kane sent Rashford through early on. Could not keep England at bay. 4

Ben Davies (LB) Had his pocket pinched by Rashford in the buildup to England’s second goal. Average performance. 4

Gareth Bale (RW) He barely had a touch before going off at half-time. Was this his final game? 4

Joe Allen (CM) Had his side’s first shot, firing over. But his influence on the game was limited. 4

Ethan Ampadu (CM) Worked hard but was outclassed. Fouled Foden for the free-kick that led to the opener. 4

Dan James (LW) Made no impact against Walker, who was too strong. Curled a cross narrowly wide. Booked. 4

Aaron Ramsey (AM) Looked past it at this level. Game passed him by. Booked for a foul on Henderson. 4

Kieffer Moore (CF) The big striker had a thankless task. Hold-up play was disappointing. Tested Pickford from distance. 4


Brennan Johnson Made little impact after coming on for Bale; 4. Connor Roberts Beaten by pace and skill when Rashford scored his second; 4. Joe Morrell Came on for the injured Davies; 5. Harry Wilson Replaced the ineffective James; 5. Rubin Colwill On too late to make a difference; 5.

Kyle Walker (right) vies with Kieffer Moore of Wales.
Kyle Walker (right) vies with Kieffer Moore of Wales, in the England right-back’s first start of the World Cup. Photograph: Xinhua/Shutterstock

England (4-3-3)

Jordan Pickford (GK) Stayed alert and made a stop from a deflected shot from Kieffer Moore at 2-0. 7

Kyle Walker (RB) Got vital minutes on his first start since early October. Showed no signs of rust. 7

John Stones (CB) Comfortable against a mediocre Welsh attack. But needs to be more progressive on the ball. 7

Harry Maguire (CB) A wayward blast summed up England’s first half. But his defending was rock-solid again. 8

Luke Shaw (LB) Untroubled defensively. Always quicker to the ball than his opponents. Crossing needs to be better. 7

Declan Rice (CM) Had an easy time sweeping up in midfield. Could be more imaginative with his passing. 7

Jordan Henderson (CM) He stabilised England against USA and offered a lot of energy. Retrieved possession well. 7

Jude Bellingham (CM) Surging run caught the eye in the first half. Elegant touches and almost scored. 7

Phil Foden (RW) Improved after moving to the left. Scared Wales with his dribbling and scored the second. 8

Harry Kane (CF) Set up England’s second but will be annoyed not to have scored in the group stage. 7

Marcus Rashford (LW) Spurned an early chance but dazzled after switching with Foden. Cracking free-kick and a slick second. 8 (man of the match)


Trent Alexander-Arnold Did nothing wrong after coming on for Walker; 6. Callum Wilson Replaced Kane and set up chances for Rashford and Bellingham; 7. Kalvin Phillips Came on for his first tournament appearance. Raking pass set up Rashford’s second goal; 7. Kieran Trippier Introduced to allow Shaw a rest; 6. Jack Grealish One nice dribble after replacing Rashford; 6.

Wales fans proud and unbowed after early World Cup exit | Wales

They had come, wearing their bucket hats and bright red shirts, in hope rather than expectation.

As Wales’s first appearance at the football World Cup for 64 years was ended by England, the fans left Wrexham’s fan zones disappointed but unbowed, still proud of their team’s achievements.

Ceri Ellis, who watched the game with her son, Gareth, 12, smiled sadly. “It’s really great that Wales just got to Qatar – it put us on the map. It would have been nice if we could have played better, but it’s breathed life and awareness into our culture, our language. It’s brought everyone together.” Despite the result, Gareth, clutching his Welsh dragon flag, insisted: “I think Wales is the best team in the world.”

Wrexham is so keen on its football that it set up two fan zones.

On a bitterly cold Tuesday evening, thousands gathered outside a big screen on the high street in front of the Wynnstay Arms Hotel, where the Football Association of Wales (FAW) was founded, to watch the match with an English-language commentary. Wrexham is a border city, with many English people living and working here, but they stayed at home or at least did not wear their colours, leaving the streets a sea of red.

Wales fans at Tŷ Pawb
Wales fans at Tŷ Pawb (Everyone’s House) in Wrexham. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Hundreds also watched the game with Welsh-language commentary in the cosier surroundings of Tŷ Pawb (Everyone’s House), a market/arts space.

Mei Emrys, a musician who warmed up the Tŷ Pawb crowd before the game with some rousing Welsh tunes, admitted he was “slightly disappointed” Wales had not played as well as they could.

“But two generations haven’t even seen Wales get to a World Cup. You hope we’ll be back for the Euros in two years and the next World Cup. And it’s been more about the football team. You won’t get a better stage than this to promote Wales, our language, our culture.”

Geraint Jones, who helps run the Welsh shop, Siop Siwan, in Tŷ Pawb, has followed the city’s club, Wrexham AFC, and the national team since he was a boy.

The last time Wales beat England – at Wrexham’s Racecourse ground in 1984 – he came home from college in Bangor to watch it. “But I had man flu so stayed at home. I should have crawled there.”

Welsh – Cymraeg – is Jones’s first language, and he is glad it has received such prominence this World Cup. “The way the FAW has integrated the language has been great. They’ve had the Welsh speakers like Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies doing press conferences in Welsh – fantastic.”

Wales fans
Wales fans in Wrexham city centre watch their team play England. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Like cities, towns and villages across Wales, Wrexham (Wrecsam in Welsh) has relished this World Cup.

The museum has a wonderful exhibition of Welsh football shirts through the ages, including a top Mel Charles wore when he represented Wales in the 1958 World Cup. The city has organised football sticker swap points, flag screen-printing workshops and scarf-making clubs.

Councillor Nigel Williams, the lead member for economy and regeneration, said now, more than ever, football was at the heart of Wrexham: “It’s a huge part of our culture.”

Wrexham AFC has been in the headlines across the globe since the US actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bought the club. “We get tourists from all over the world now because of them,” said Williams. “They visit London, Windsor and then come to Wrexham.” The profile Wales has enjoyed at the World Cup will help that, he said.

Wales fans
Wales fans in Wrexham city centre. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

After the final whistle, Yma o Hyd (Still Here), the defiant Welsh-language folk song that has been adopted by the squad and become a fan favourite, blared from the speakers at Tŷ Pawb and in venues across the city.

Wayne Jones, landlord of the pub next door to the Racecourse, the Turf, said: “This competition has meant everything for the people of Wales after a 64-year wait. The players will come home with their heads held high. We won’t ever forget what the likes of Gareth Bale, Ramsey and Davies have given us. We’re not disappointed; we’re proud.”

Marcus Rashford revitalised to offer England hope of another World Cup run | World Cup 2022

Moments after England eased into the last 16 of this World Cup with a painlessly efficient 3-0 victory against Wales, Marcus Rashford jogged over to supporters and began to frenetically pump his fists. It was a moment of release – and sweet resurrection.

Having slayed the Welsh dragon, Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions will next take on the Lions of Teranga, as Senegal’s national team is called, on Sunday evening. Yet as England’s players celebrated the focus inevitably gravitated towards Rashford.

For much of last season the Manchester United player was hopelessly out of form. Some suggested that he had become distracted by campaigning for free school meals. Others that he should focus more on taking on football opponents instead of the government. Even his biggest fans wondered whether his mojo would ever return.

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Yet on a balmy night in Doha, Rashford not only scored England’s 100th World Cup finals goal, as well as his second and third of the tournament, but completed a remarkable comeback.

His first was a free-kick full of speed and dip and spite. The second was a shot that raced through the unfortunate Welsh keeper Danny Ward’s legs. Afterwards Rashford pointed to the sky in celebration of his goals, as well as a close friend’s life.

“I lost one of my friends a couple of days ago,” he said. “He had quite a long battle with cancer. I’m pleased I scored for him, he was a big supporter and good friend of mine. He was someone who came into my life.”

The win was also aided and abetted by Phil Foden, who scored England’s second on the night, and justified his return to the side. Afterwards Southgate gave an upbeat assessment of both men.

“It’s great for Marcus,” he said. “He’s trained really well, and he could have had a hat-trick. His free-kick was an incredible strike; that’s what he’s capable of. At moments I thought both [Rashford and Foden] were a bit quiet in the first half. We decided to switch them at half-time and they responded really well.”

Afterwards England fans celebrated by taunting the Welsh supporters with “You’re going home in the morning”. That much is true, although their tournament was over long before the USA’s 1-0 victory against Iran sent the Americans into a knockout game against the Netherlands on Saturday.

Phil Foden celebrates after scoring England’s second goal in their 3-0 win over Wales.
Phil Foden celebrates after scoring England’s second goal in their 3-0 win over Wales. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Yet despite England topping Group B with seven points, the strange truth is observers are no nearer to getting an accurate gauge of their likely departure date.

The England team that bored the nation with a disarming display of dross against the USA, and again in the first half here, will surely be significant underdogs against Brazil, Spain or France.

Yet against Iran, and in flashes against Wales, they have shown enough to suggest that a quicker style of play, along with a dollop of luck, could give them a puncher’s chance.

We do know one thing, however: England’s potential road to the World Cup final is now less murky. On Sunday they face Senegal. Then, if a tournament rich in surprises behaves itself, France lie in wait in the quarter-finals. After that, Portugal or Germany may loom in the final four.

There are lots of pitfalls ahead, of course. And no one should get carried away. But the bookmakers make them fifth favourites, which feels about right.

Earlier all eyes had been on both sets of supporters, especially after England and Wales fans had slugged it out on the beaches of Tenerife. But their behaviour here could have carried a PG certificate.

They queued politely for complimentary St George and dragon flags, which they draped over their shoulders like superhero capes. They also mingled nicely on the concourse of the Ahmad bin Ali stadium. And when the anthems rang out – a spine-tingling Land of My Fathers and a full-blooded God Save The King – they were observed impeccably.

True, Wales fans later booed the anthem. And there were also familiar chants of “No surrender” from the England end, as if a small pocket of fans were determined to prove that dinosaurs still wander the earth. But still.

Early on, it wasn’t just the crowd that lacked an edge. The football did too. The quality was summed up by defender Harry Maguire, who slalomed into the box before hitting a shot that shanked off his boot … and went for a throw in.

However, the momentum all changed on 50 minutes when Rashford hit his howitzer of a free-kick. From then on an ageing Wales side meekly surrendered.

Watching on were England fans Rebecca Knight and her husband Peter, from Ipswich, who have spent the last fortnight on the cruise ship World Europa. “We’ve seen 11 games,” said Rebecca. “I think we’ll get knocked out in the quarter-finals. We’ll beat Senegal but lose to France. Kylian Mbappé is very clinical.”

Meanwhile long after the final whistle, Wales’ fans were still proudly serenading their players. They included Tom Paley from Cardiff, who tried to put his country’s performance in their first World Cup since 1958 into words. “This signifies the end of an era,” he said with a grimace. “Obviously it’s been a bit of a disappointment but it’s been great to have seen Wales in a World Cup.”

His friend James Cattle focused on the camaraderie among both sets of fans. “It’s different when you are far from home,” he said. “But there is still a sense that you are British and looking after each other.”

Perhaps in the stands. On the pitch England had other ideas.

Marcus Rashford ‘different player’ after return to form, says Gareth Southgate | World Cup 2022

Gareth Southgate paid tribute to Marcus Rashford for his comeback after goals from the forward and Phil Foden helped England set up a last‑16 tie with Senegal and sent Wales tumbling out of the World Cup.

Rashford struggled for fitness and confidence after missing his spot‑kick when England lost the Euro 2020 final on penalties to Italy, but he looks rejuvenated after winning back his place in the squad for this tournament.

The Manchester United striker is joint top in the race for the Golden Boot – he is level with France’s Kylian Mbappé, Ecuador’s Enner Valencia and the Netherlands’ Cody Gakpo on three goals – and his double in the second half against Wales put Southgate’s side on the way to winning Group B.

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Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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“It’s been a challenge for him [Rashford],” Southgate said. “I went and saw him in the summer and had a long chat with him. He had some clear ideas on things he felt he needed to think about and to do. You can see at his club there’s been happiness in his performances this year. That’s shown itself on the training ground all the time with us.

“We’ve got a different version completely to the player we had in the Euros last summer. He’s managed to produce those moments tonight. He could have had a hat-trick with the chance in the first half and the one at the near post towards the end. But it’s great for him and it’s great for us.”

Rashford, who opened the scoring with a thumping free-kick, will hope to keep Raheem Sterling out of the side when England meet Senegal on Sunday. He started on the left against Wales but Southgate decided to tweak his attack after a flat first half. Rashford swapped flanks with Foden, who made his first start of the tournament after coming in for Bukayo Saka, and Southgate now has a selection conundrum before the tie with Senegal.

“You want those sorts of decisions,” England’s head coach said. “We need strength in depth. It was also important for us tonight that Kyle Walker got minutes and Kalvin Phillips got minutes. You just never know when we’re going to need that depth.

“It’s tough because you’ve got players who didn’t get on to the field and players who will be slightly disappointed. But the spirit in the dressing room at the end was fantastic. They’ve got a day off their feet. They don’t have to train tomorrow – that’s important. Especially the players who haven’t started as many games, they’ve been training every single day. They don’t have to look at our faces, which I’m sure they’ll be delighted with.”

England have won their World Cup group for the first time since 2006 and Southgate believes his players are more confident than they were in Russia four years ago. “There is a different mentality about the whole group. There’s more belief. Our objectives are different. In Russia, we were just thinking about ‘Could we win a knockout game?’ There’s more expectation now, but more confidence and more experience of big matches.”

Rob Page stayed optimistic after Wales, who had not qualified for a World Cup finals tournament since 1958, finished bottom of the group with one point. “We look back with frustration but it is an amazing achievement for that group of players to get here in the first place,” the Wales manager said. “We build on that. There’s a bigger picture here.

“We’re disappointed because we know in a couple of the games we haven’t shown our true colours. That is probably the most frustrating thing for me and the group of players.”

Page said Gareth Bale, who went off at half-time with a hamstring injury, has not played his last game for Wales. “I don’t think it will be the last time you see him in a Welsh jersey. There are games starting again in March for the Euros and we want to get off to a flying start.”

Gareth Southgate flips switch at right time to show his worth for England | World Cup 2022

In praise of Gareth. Can we take a moment to do this now? Can we just suck that sweetness down? Because this was a very good game for England and their manager, a manager who has, for all his success, his status as pretty much the most sensible person currently active in English public life, had a weirdly vitriolic year and a half.

It was a good game for Gareth Southgate because England were bad at first, and then they were good, and good thanks to a stroke of tactical switchery that broke the game open. It was good because players Southgate brought in ended the night playing with freedom; Marcus Rashford romping like a cosseted puppy, spanking England’s opening goal into the top corner then celebrating with something that felt, and indeed was, a kind of catharsis, the feeling of a breaking wave.

It was good because England entered this World Cup facing, on paper, the toughest group in the tournament. They have now eased through it while scoring nine goals and never trailing at any stage. It was good because England’s third goal was made by a pass from one sub, Trent Alexander-Arnold, to another, Kalvin Phillips, whose long pass then found Rashford, who chopped inside then smashed the ball past a concrete-booted Danny Ward.

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It was good because Southgate picked a fun-looking team, the front three a combination of mobility, craft and Harry Kane things. It was good because Southgate has the best tournament record of any England manager, ever. Maybe, who knows, he might actually be decent, or at least not – can we say this now? – a bearded fraud, a woke dinosaur, a stop on progress and all the rest.

Southgate came here decked out in a kind of Executive Golf Weekend smart casual mashup of shimmery white dad‑top and blue FA suit. And he looked genuinely happy at the end as he lounged in his chair and smiled and said things like “we enjoy each others’ company”.

The Ahmad bin Ali Stadium is a lovely-looking thing, woven with a kind of winter wonderland tissue of vast fibreglass alien creepers, and coloured by a scrolling sheen of iridescent light. As the crowd sang about Southgate being the one, as the players waved to a bank of white, the thought occurred that there isn’t another, alternate England where this thing works any better. This is it. The good bit.

And it was good because England also showed their weaknesses, but swallowed them down by the end. In the build-up to this game Southgate was asked about his players being “let off the leash”, about the possibility of leash‑letting, of leashes hurled to the skies. His answer was to the point. Basically, there is no leash. The leash is not a thing. The leash exists only in the most simple analysis.

Phil Foden on the ball during England’s 3-0 win over Wales.
Phil Foden being moved to the left wing – and Marcus Rashford to the right – produced rich dividends for Gareth Southgate. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Plans either work, the moment is seized, or it isn’t. Football is closer to chaos theory than the flapping of an Iranian goalkeeper’s gloves, a run that isn’t picked, a cross that finds just the right level of arc. All of these details feed into the narrative of outcomes.

Southgate didn’t actually say this. He just said there basically is no leash, just a process of refining those details, and hoping this brings more days where this falls in your favour.

With this in mind, the real key to England’s hopes is not the freedom of the second half but the stodge of the first, during which they aimed for control but were horribly static, producing long periods of un-football, a half that felt at times like an existentially glazed piece of performance art; Andy Warhol’s Sleep reinterpreted via a series of cautious shuttle runs from Kyle Walker.

In the opening three minutes England passed the ball to each other 17 times in their own half. This kind of possession at the back does have a purpose. That purpose is to keep the ball, rest and control the game. It is how Southgate erased the flakiness in this team, transformed the defence into a kind of five-man human sandbag.

But that tactic has never made the next step. For a high‑end club team, a prime Pep vehicle, the real point of possession in these areas is to set your starting positions against counterattack, and then to move the opposition around. It has an aggression to it.

England are instead rigid. The lines never bend or bleed into one another, just move forward like dutiful pedestrians shuffling down Wembley Way to an overcrowded tube platform.

That pattern changed here. Southgate switched Rashford and Phil Foden from inverted to orthodox wide players: left‑footer on the left, right on the right. Both players scored from that side, holding their width.

Foden is not a one-man fix for England’s dogged rhythms. He isn’t the unleashing (remember: there is no leash). But he must now start in the last 16 against Senegal, if only because no other player in England’s squad offers his touch and easy grace on the ball, his ability to move between the rigid lines of this team.

England will move on, with calls to set free the hares, to hurl the handbrake from the passenger window. It won’t happen. Southgate has often pointed out that tournaments basically come down to details.

This is what will happen now. Southgate will think about control. And whatever moments might lie in store, they will always have this one.

Is now the time for Gareth to Bale out? Wales legend is running on empty | World Cup 2022

“You’re going home in the morning,” came the chorus from the England supporters after Marcus Rashford fired in an early second-half free‑kick and again, a little bit louder, when Phil Foden doubled their advantage 98 seconds later. It was salt into the wound for the bank of Wales fans at the other end – six‑and-a-bit blocks of the Red Wall – for whom a first World Cup finals in 64 years has turned out to be a rather dispiriting and demoralising experience. Was it really worth the wait? Gareth Bale will no doubt ponder the same question in the coming days.

Bale, who appeared to alert medical staff to a hamstring problem with about 10 minutes of the first half to play, was substituted at the break. Three weeks ago, on the day Rob Page announced his squad, the Wales manager conceded that whether Bale could handle three games in quick succession was the million‑dollar question, for which we now have a resounding answer: 256 minutes across eight days was simply too much for a player who has played such little football over the past few years. The painful truth is Bale’s three World Cup appearances comprise three duds. At the final whistle Bale limped on to the pitch, embraced Page and then Gareth Southgate.

Bale had seven forgettable touches and completed one pass in 50 first-half minutes – and that was back towards his own defender about 10 yards from the Wales goal-line. Despite starting in his favoured position on the right flank, Bale again appeared to be running on empty, immobile and somehow, despite all of his past grandeur, reduced to a pawn on a chessboard of kings and queens in a dull first half, in which Kieffer Moore had Wales’s only shot on target. At one point Page quickly fed Bale the ball on halfway. Bale took a long throw in search of Moore, who flicked the ball on in the hope of locating Aaron Ramsey, who would wear the captain’s armband in the second half.

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Page said if Bale returned for the second half he would have been playing at about 70%. Quite what percentage he was operating at in the first half is anyone’s guess, with Page’s hollow insistence Bale “put in a big shift” hard to comprehend.

Things did not improve. But for 38 minutes, believe it or not, Wales were actually only one goal away from reaching the last 16. But then Christian Pulisic scored against Iran and half an hour later Wales’s ludicrously slim hopes of advancing to the knockout stage were in tatters. By the time Ben Davies was forced off through injury approaching the hour, Wales were in a real mess.

Connor Roberts was exposed at left-back, Ethan Ampadu, arguably the best of a bad bunch as far as Wales performances in Qatar go, filling in at right-back. Joe Morrell, hardly a regular for Portsmouth in League One, joined the midfield alongside Joe Allen, who started his first game since September. England, meanwhile, introduced starters from Manchester City, Liverpool and Newcastle.

Bale’s withdrawal brought the arrival of Brennan Johnson and within seconds the 21‑year‑old Nottingham Forest forward provided Wales with a welcome thrust. Finally, there was some intent, even if it came to nothing. Johnson gave Luke Shaw a bump as he set off to race on to a lofted pass and the referee, Slavko Vincic, awarded a free-kick. A few minutes later Johnson’s neat back‑heel flick close to halfway helped the ball on to Ramsey for a lesser-spotted Wales attack.

Gareth Bale with family including mother Debbie, father Frank and sister Vicky, after the match with England.
Gareth Bale spends time with his family at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

The Wales centre-back Chris Mepham acknowledged his side would have to take the handbrake off if they were to have any chance of recording a first win against England since 1984, and Page took the decision to switch system, ditching the three-man defence for the first time since September last year.

Page even seemed determined to keep Southgate and the England staff guessing, with Joe Rodon, Davies and Mepham warming up as a back three, while Neco Williams and Daniel James lined up as wing-backs.

To say Wales were suddenly free of all inhibitions here would be pushing it, mind. Davies shifted to left‑back and Ramsey and Bale roamed behind Moore – often nowhere near the striker – but the England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was a spectator throughout. James, reduced to a 5ft 7in trier, was also totally lost. Before dropping a shot wide of a post in the second half, his main contribution was giving John Stones a whack on the shins.

Wales exit with Bale’s penalty, which salvaged an unlikely draw against the USA, their only goal and after bruising defeats by Iran and England. The Wales fans who made it to all three of their games here must be sick of the sight of the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.

Where do Wales go from here, and with whom exactly? Page has said his senior players have promised him they will not all retire in one swoop and Bale insists he will stick around for the Euro 2024 campaign. Ramsey, too, will seemingly carry on. A few minutes after the final whistle the 2,500 or so Wales supporters launched into a stirring, a capella version of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, with Bale, Allen and the rest of the squad visibly moved, but that represented one of few moments from Qatar to cherish.

Marcus Rashford double puts England top of group and sends Wales home | World Cup 2022

Marcus Rashford kneeled down, closed his eyes and pointed his fingers to the sky. At one of the finest moments of his career, the England forward wanted to pay his respects to a friend he has just lost to cancer. The emotions raged.

Rashford had finally made the breakthrough, lancing the tension that had built during a tepid first half against an ultra-defensive Wales, and it was some way to do so – a fizzing free-kick that veered away from the goalkeeper, Danny Ward, and headed towards the top corner.

England felt the shackles come off. Previously, it had been a slog; a tie when it was possible to fear the worst for them. Now they put Wales to the sword, easing towards victory and a first-placed finish in the group. The reward? A last-16 tie against Senegal on Sunday.

There would be more for Rashford and, really, it was his night. Given his chance in the starting XI for the first time at this World Cup, he scored his second when he tore on to a long ball from the substitute, Kalvin Phillips, before rushing inside another replacement, Connor Roberts, and shooting through the legs of Ward. He simply had too much pace and balance for Roberts.

Before that, Phil Foden – another of Gareth Southgate’s big starting selections – had made it 2-0, getting on the end of a wonderful Harry Kane cross, and there was a lovely moment between Southgate and Rashford in the 75th minute when the latter’s number went up: a warm embrace, wide smiles all round.

It was the first time that British teams had met at a World Cup and the occasion was always going to be heavy on a particular kind of tribalism. Noisy neighbours? It had felt that England considered Wales as such during the build-up and not only because of the notorious Euro 2016 gloating video. “They have additional motivation to play against England – from what they are saying,” Southgate said, pointedly, on Monday. His team would do their talking on the pitch, although they would have to bide their time.

For Rashford, it had not started well. England had craved an early settler because the nerves were jangling at the beginning and they nearly got it when Kane dropped off and Rashford bombed forward; a combination that Southgate wanted to see. Kane’s pass was perfect, Rashford’s run the same and he was one-on-one with Ward. Could Rashford finish? On this occasion, the answer was no. Rashford wanted too long, to take an extra step, maybe to sit Ward down. Ward stood tall and blocked.

Wales knew that only a win would do and a part of the equation for them was to move on from the shattering defeat against Iran – along with the overall feeling that they had not really turned up at these finals. Rob Page had promised that Wales would put on their “big boy pants” and he changed his approach, going with a back four. The wingers, Gareth Bale and Dan James, were under orders to protect the full-backs.

Phil Foden drives home England’s second goal.
Phil Foden drives home England’s second goal. Photograph: Getty Images

England hogged the ball from the first whistle, trying to work their patterns, to pull Wales out of their shape. But for long spells in the first half, the movements were too slow, the tempo absent. It felt like possession for possession’s sake. There were some crossfield switches but Wales were happy to keep England in front of them. They were able to do so with a measure of comfort.

Wales barely crossed halfway before the interval. The onus was on England. Rashford hammered in a shot that Neco Williams bravely cleared with his head – the Wales defender would be forced off with a suspected concussion – and there was the comedy moment when Harry Maguire advanced and advanced before trying his luck. He shanked the shot out for a throw-in.

England flickered towards the end of the first-half. Jude Bellingham ignited one move with a pair of nice flicks that led to Foden shooting off target. Rashford leapt into a scissor kick from a deflected Jordan Henderson cross only to mis-time the connection. Foden led a break but Rashford’s final ball was poor. There were furrowed brows when the half-time whistle blew.

Bale did not reappear for the second-half; the statistics credited him with seven touches but what could England do? Urgency and penetration had to be the watchwords. Southgate’s team located them.

Foden was the spark. He had been loose in the first-half. Now, switched to the left, he blasted inside, running at the red shirts, a blur of intent to win a free-kick to the left of centre.

Rashford’s conversion was a beauty; the power and placement too much for Ward, although the goalkeeper did appear to be slightly wrong-footed, leaning towards the other corner, perhaps expecting the ball to have gone there.

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This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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England twisted the knife immediately, Rashford pressing Ben Davies as Wales tried to play out from the back and nicking the ball away from him. It broke to Kane, who took a touch, made his calculations and crossed low to the far post, where Foden had made the run. The finish was straightforward.

Wales went with a whimper, their first World Cup since 1958 the dampest of squibs. Apart from a deflected Kieffer Moore shot that Jordan Pickford kept out, they did not threaten.

Southgate gave minutes off the bench to Trent Alexander-Arnold and Phillips, among others, and his team ought to have had more. Rashford was denied a hat-trick by Ward, who also saved from Bellingham. On the second phase of the move, Foden could not finish. And, at the very end, John Stones somehow lifted high from point-blank range.