England had virtually qualified for the knockout round before kick-off on Tuesday, but their final group game was still under pressure. The pressure to win, yes, and the pressure not to lose, of course, but above all the pressure to suggest that she was capable – after a boring performance in her last match – of a magical and majestic display in this Cup of the world.
Tuesday’s first half looked like England’s game four days earlier – unappealing, ineffectual and, more specifically, scoreless – as the Welsh came back in defence, content to deter and deny instead of create and to produce. Then, with so many red shirts crammed into the box, came a wonderful free-kick, and with it a goal – the first of three – which England desperately needed.
By toppling Wales, England qualified for the Round of 16 atop Group B, securing – in theory at least – a more favorable draw in the knockout round. His reward is a meeting with Senegal, second in Group A, and the avoidance of the Netherlands, who are shaping a suitor just as much as England.
England, however, have a much better record in international tournaments recently than the Dutch, reaching the final of the European Championship last year and the semi-finals of the World Cup in Russia in 2018. and his manager, Gareth Southgate, are older and perhaps wiser, and he had an idea of what they were missing in a stalemate showing Friday against the United States.
That scoreless draw forced Southgate to add more attacking flavor to a line-up that lacked tempo and creativity. Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden have therefore arrived. They scored a minute apart at the start of the second half: the first on this magnificent free kick and the second after a clever cross from Harry Kane. Rashford added another in the 68th minute to dismiss Wales, who were playing their first World Cup since 1958 without a win in Qatar.
Although England and Wales are both members of the United Kingdom, they compete as separate nations outside of the Olympics. Their meeting on Tuesday marked another watershed moment in a rivalry, both sporting and cultural, that has spanned centuries, with England emerging victorious in football – and, it seems, in royalty, the Prince of Wales expressing his support for the Three Lions.
For the occasion, there was red in the stands at the Ahmed bin Ali stadium, and there was red in the faces of the English players, and there was red — so much red — in the box. Wales mustered five, six, seven men at once, and although England dominated possession, Rashford got his only shot on target in the first half. It was denied by goalkeeper Danny Ward, who kept the game scoreless, if only temporarily, before England showed their might again and again and again.