If it was rugby, it would be a frequent occurrence, if it was cricket they’d be in the same team, but England versus Wales in football in a match that actually matters is a much more unusual state of affairs. And this one really matters, what with Wales topping Group B after the first round of games and England playing catch-up after their late slip against Russia.
The venue is Lens, where clear-sighted readers may recall England beating Colombia 2-0 in the 1998 World Cup, a game which included the highlight of David Beckham’s tournament, a curling free-kick, as opposed to… well, you remember. If 1998 seems a long time ago then consider that Wales’ last goal against England came in 1984 from Stoke manager Mark Hughes (sadly not Stoke manager at the time), three days before the Thames Barrier opened in London.
And Wales could do with a decent barrier themselves, having conceded in their last five games, their worst run for three years, while England have only failed to score in one of their 13 Euros finals games since drawing 0-0 with Spain in the quarter-final in 1996. They also hit nine shots in the first half against Russia, only two fewer than the Welsh managed in 90 minutes against Slovakia and have won their last four MD2 games at Euros. Also, look out for more unjustified indignation about Harry Kane taking corners, an event that leads to a goal about 3% of the time. Kane has actually taken 5% of the corners England have ever had in Euros history, let’s hope he can break through the 10% barrier on Thursday.
So far so good for Roy Hodgson and the Three Lions, but there’s a large shadow on the horizon in the form of superstar dragon Gareth Bale. In his first game at Euro 2016 the Real Madrid man did what Cristiano Ronaldo has never managed to do in a major international tournament and scored from a direct free-kick, and will lead the line against the English. Bale has a particularly strong record against Roy Hodgson, winning five of his eight Premier League encounters with the England manager, and is surely a strong bet to score again.
Are Wales over-reliant on Bale? Yes, he’s scored 14 of the 31 goals the team has scored under Chris Coleman, but he’s one of the most talented and effective players in world football. The question is can England constrain him, and will they even have to if they can unlock the Wales defence often enough. All will be revealed on Thursday afternoon.
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