RAYYAN, Qatar — After a first half that may have caused many English people to engage in the fine art of consternation, England soared and scored again at last Tuesday night, splashing a one-two of goals across mere seconds just beyond halftime and veering toward the knockout stage.
It went from suitable to sublime in the 50th and 51st minutes against its countrymen, with both goals starring Marcus Rashford, the 25-year-old who has played for Manchester United since age 7 and who has had his moments of woe with England — including missing a penalty (in the 2020 European Championship), losing his form and losing his place. First he sent a free kick that looked downright celestial from the middle of the top of the box, shipping it over the right side of the wall and up into the right corner of the goal, and next he disrupted Welsh defender Ben Davies as Davies tried to clear.
That made the ball skitter to Harry Kane, who charged near the right side of the box and crossed all the way across to nowhere — until Phil Foden came racing in to bang it into the net.
It looked like manna for the fans behind that goal who hadn’t seen an England goal in the previous three halves, counting the goalless draw against the United States. For added manna, Rashford scored in the 68th minute with a left-footed blast through legs and limbs and past goalkeeper Danny Ward’s right side, then he exited in the 75th minute to a swell of applause from the “God Save the King” portion of the crowd.
“Tonight, he showed he belongs on this stage,” said Harry Maguire, Rashford’s teammate for club and country, and a friend Maguire called “a wonderful man and a great player.”
“It’s been a challenge for him,” Manager Gareth Southgate said, soon adding: “You can see with his club, there’s been happiness in his performance this year, and I have to say that’s shown in the training ground for us. ... Great for him, and because it’s great for him, it’s great for us.”
Connor Roberts, the Welsh defender, called Rashford’s free kick “obviously a moment of magic for them, and we’ve been on the other side of that with Gareth [Bale, Wales’s longtime star].” But: “It knocked the stuffing out of us tonight.”
And Rashford, looking grateful as he dedicated goal celebrations to a friend who recently died of cancer, said, “I’m just really happy that we showed we can bounce back from a not-so-good performance against [the] U.S.A.,” adding, “We showed our strengths, and we showed what we can do.”
Off went Wales, having graced a World Cup for the first time since 1958, back when it forced Brazil to require a 66th-minute goal from a 17-year-old Pele to strain past Wales in the quarterfinals, and back when Wales went by “God Save the Queen” at anthem time, according to the BBC.
Now the Welsh in red gave a final goose bump of a “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” anthem, followed by England’s equally belted “God Save the King,” and soon the nation with 84.3 percent of the United Kingdom’s population began besting the admirable sorts from 4.7 percent of the same population.
The Welsh bowed out of another pinnacle six years after their Euro 2016 semifinal joy in France, and Roberts saw “a lot of different emotions, I think, in that dressing room,” including “a bit of disappointment” mixed with “a massive achievement.”
Before leaving, they engaged England in a first half that technically did occur, even if nothing much occurred within it. England achieved a soft domination of play. Wales went almost the entire 45-plus-five without a shot or even a shot at a shot or really even a shot at a shot at a shot. Jordan Pickford, the English goalkeeper, almost could have used the time to answer texts and emails.
There did come some kind of mild palpitation in the 10th minute, when Kane sent a dreamy ball in to a streaking Rashford, who moved in against Ward, the two of them alone together for a flash until a teetering Ward caught Rashford’s bid with his left biceps.
England had other misses, such as when Foden yanked one up over the goal, when Roberts made a fine thwarting of an England jailbreak to the box initiated by Foden and when Ward caught an easy John Stones header with one foot behind the line but the ball kept in front.
Often, Wales filled the box it defended with much of the Welsh population, which makes for excellent company unless you’re trying to score on it.
Meanwhile, the English end in white boomed a few renditions of “God Save the King,” while the Welsh end in red replied with booming booing. All was benign, including the threats on goals, until there came more evidence that England has more options than before, options beyond the Kane upon whom it long has relied.
“Definitely compared to Russia [in 2018], there’s a different mentally about the whole group,” Southgate said. “There’s more belief. ... There’s more expectation now but more confidence.”
In a single, successful Tuesday night, they had one half of each.
World Cup in Qatar
World champions: Argentina has won the World Cup, defeating France in penalty kicks in a thrilling final in Lusail, Qatar, for its first world championship since 1986. Argentina was led by global soccer star Lionel Messi in what is expected to be his final World Cup appearance. France was bidding to become the first repeat champion since Brazil won consecutive trophies in 1958 and 1962.
Today’s WorldView: In the minds of many critics, especially in the West, Qatar’s World Cup will always be a tournament shrouded in controversy. But Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, wants people to take another view.
Perspective: “America is not a men’s soccer laughingstock right now. It’s onto something, and it’s more attuned to what’s working for the rest of the world rather than stubbornly forcing an American sports culture — without the benefit of best-of-the-best talent — into international competition.” Read Jerry Brewer on the U.S. men’s national team’s future.