Dubai: It was billed as the Battle of Britain but there was hardly any fight from Wales as England strolled to a comfortable 3-0 win at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.
The first was a cagey affair as was expected but the Three Lions upped the tempo in the second 45 to finish top of Group B. The change in performance was down to a simple swap; coach Gareth Southgate, who had heeded to the nations cries of starting Phil Foden, moved the Man City star from the right flank to the left. And on his favoured side, he was unplayable and had a sizzling impact on the match. He won the free-kick for Marcus Rashford – who was an all-around nuisance – which the Man Utd man fired it home. A minute later and Foden was on the scoresheet himself. He helped turn the game once he moved to the left.
The Three Lions were afforded the luxury of replacing Harry Kane, Declan Rice and Kyle Walker before the hour because it was that easy. But, sterner tests await and it is time for the coach to stop tinkering with the side.
We all know Foden is a great option in two or three positions but hopefully now, Southgate will not only keep him in the side because he can have a big impact in the knockouts but he will play him on the left.
England face Senegal next on Sunday in the last 16 and Foden will have a major part to play because he is capable of producing flashes of brilliance that can change a game.
England needed a livewire like him against the USA in which they laboured for a point. Thankfully, Southgate started him against Wales even though he foolishly played him on the wrong flank. He saw sense at half time and made the switch where the 22-year-old unlocked the game early in the second.
Rashford will get the plaudits for his two goals but Foden showed the world what he can bring to the team. It was his driving run that earned the free-kick from which Rashford scored and then he was there to turn in the second goal moments later. He started the move following a passage of play which saw him press the Welsh full-back into passing the ball backwards from the kick-off. That is what England could have done with against the USA – players pressing and causing defenders into making mistakes.
He dragged a shot wide in the first half and then blazed one over the bar after brilliant work by Jude Bellingham. But he kept his nerve and crucially, kept plugging away and got his rewards with a brilliant second half.
The England boss has started him six times on the right wing but for City under Pep Guardiola – one of the best coaches in the world – he plays on the left. And unsurprisingly, he always has an impact on a match. Playing on the left often opens up the opportunity for him to finish from wide areas on his favoured foot and that is what happened for his goal, his first for England in over two years. But it was the kind of finish that is a familiar sight at the Etihad, City fans will testify to that.
Everyone knows it is a productive zone for him there and you have to wonder why Southgate persists on playing him on the other side for England. Perhaps he sees Foden more as a creator? But his statistics prove he is a better finisher.
This season in the Premier League, he has seven goals and three assists. Clearly a man in form who knows where the back of the net is, Southgate must now take it on the chin and play him in his most effective position so that he can do the most damage for England.