TOULOUSE: Wales extended their run of firsts as they despatched a desperately poor Russia from Euro 2016 by an indisputably clear 3-0 in Toulouse.
This was Wales’ first appearance in the European Championship finals, victory took them to first place in Group B and superstar forward Gareth Bale, by scoring his third goal of the tournament, took over as the No1 marksman.
Russia will have nothing by which to remember these finals except foreign condemnation of their hooligan supporters and the knowledge that their national team are at rock bottom just two years off their own hosting of the World Cup.
Coach Leonid Slutsky, who had been pressed into service halfway through the qualifying campaign, resigned almost before the final whistle.
By contrast Wales’ Chris Coleman scored a personal managerial triumph of his own in the surprise selection of striker Sam Vokes ahead of Hal Robson-Kanu. Vokes demanded the extra attacking attention which helped create more space for Bale to pull the creative strings to devastating effect.
The gaps in Russia’s defence were also exploited ruthlessly by Joe Allen whose backheel control earned him time to provide the assist from which Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey clipped a shot over the onrushing Igor Akinfeev for the first goal.
That was after 11 minutes. Nine minutes later Taylor, whose last strike was for Wrexham against Grays Athletic in the Conference in 2010, found himself unmarked at the back post. Akinfeyev parried his first effort but Taylor followed up ruthlessly.
It was the first competitive Wales goal which did not involve Bale or Ramsey scoring or assisting since David Cotterill against Cyprus in October 2014.
Bale, with two free-kick goals previously, finally scored his first goal from open play in the 67th minute to hand Wales an unassailable 3-0 lead and become the three-goal leading scorer in the tournament thus far.
He also became the first player to score in all three group games at the European Championship since Holland’s Ruud van Nistelrooy and Czech Republic’s Milan Baros in 2004. is now Wales’ leading scorer in major finals, having scored more than Ivor Allchurch’s two in the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden.
Wales’ command was illustrated by their tally of 19 shots during the 90 minutes as they reached the knockout stages of a major tournament for only the second time in their history.
The first time was in 1958 when they lost to Pele’s Brazil in the World Cup quarter-finals.
To reach the quarter-finals this time they will need to beat one of the third-placed teams in the Parc des Princes in Paris on Saturday.
Having progressed this far they will certainly not be intimidated by whoever the luck of the draw throws up.