General consensus heading into Euro2016 was that Wales’ chances of reaching the knockout stages were heavily reliant on the form of star player Gareth Bale.
The Real Madrid man had played a key role in his side’s qualification campaign with seven goals from 10 games and is widely regarded as one of the best players around in the game, with some even suggesting he is destined to usurp Cristiano Ronaldo as the main man at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Indeed, it was Bale who made all the headlines in Wales’ first two Group B encounters in France, finding the net both in the 2-1 win over Slovakia and in the defeat at the hands of England by the same scoreline.
Russia coach Leonid Slutsky, however, was well aware there is more to Wales than Bale heading into Monday’s match in Toulouse, singling out Aaron Ramsey as a player of equal importance.
“Wales have two stars, two top players in Bale and Ramsey,” Slutsky said before the game.
“Their attacking play is all about the interaction between these two.
“But they have a very decent side and are dangerous on the break.”
Despite Slutsky’s warning, though, the Russian defence felt they could afford to lose sight of the Arsenal midfielder – and he duly punished them with a superb display.
Ramsey escaped the offside trap in the 11th minute, took a touch to take the ball forward a step and beat goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev with a delicate chip to lead Wales the way with his 11th goal for his country.
The 25-year-old continued to make an impact in the opening stages and had a hand in his side’s second goal, too, picking up a loose ball before unleashing Bale through the middle, who in turn set up Neil Taylor to convert.
Not content with having played a role in two goals, he then went on to provide the assist for Bale to make it three halfway through the second half.
There was much more to Ramsey’s performance than just goals and assists, though.
He made more passes than any other Welshman, playing an impressive 39 passes in Russia’s half – including six key passes – had the most touches and gained possession more often than any other team-mate to highlight an amazing all-round display.
That’s not to say Bale did not step up to the plate, too, however.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 20, 2016
The former Tottenham man caused the Russian defence all kinds of trouble right from the opening whistle and played a role in Wales’ second, before eventually putting the match to bed after the interval with his third goal of the tournament.
High-profile names such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have been struggling here in France, but Bale has been having no such problems.
It would be opportunistic to claim Wales are among the contenders to go all the way, but there is no denying they have been giving a great account of themselves – and no team will be happy to lock horns with them in the round of 16.
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