Mark O’Haire’s Euro Tips – England v Wales
England face Wales for the 102nd time on Thursday afternoon but for the first time in history the two nations will clash at a major tournament.
England v Wales, Thursday 16th June 2016 (14.00), BBC 1 & RTE 2
Lens is the venue for Group B’s crunch clash with Wales coming into the contest top of the tree following their 2-1 triumph over Slovakia. But the Dragons have won just once in eight attempts against the Three Lions (W1-D1-L6) and failed to even score a goal against their old rivals since 1984.
Battle of Britain
That sorry head-to-head record should have little influence on Chris Coleman’s troops but the Welsh boss was concerned in the run up to Euro 2016 that this fixture could become a ‘circus’ due to the overbearing nature of the UK media.
Nonetheless, the Dragons squad were euphoric following their late winner in their opener in Bordeaux. Gareth Bale’s dipping free-kick gave Wales a half-time lead and sent their fans into raptures before Ondrej Duda punished passive defending to equalise.
But substitute Hal Robson-Kanu’s scuffed finish won it for Wales, who now know a point against England will certainly put them into the knockout stages. However, the three points secured at Slovakia should in theory be good enough to progress.
Coleman had spoken beforehand about the importance of seizing this historic moment, and his players did so with a wholehearted display. The Dragons coach was bold in his team selection, starting Jonny Williams to create a fluid attacking trio with Aaron Ramsey and Bale, while recognised strikers Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes were on the bench.
The decision was vindicated as Wales fired in eight shots-on-target during the tie and although the Slovaks controlled possession as the game wore on, the Dragons late rally has put them in the driving seat.
Bale The Main Man
Bale’s influence cannot be underestimated. Whilst Wales’ defence appeared more jittery than usual – Coleman’s charges have now conceded in each of their last five outings, their worst return since March 2013 – Bale’s goal means the Real Madrid superstar has now scored 14 (45%) of the 31 Wales goals under Coleman since he took charge in February 2012.
England will know – shackle Bale and they’ll stand a solid chance of picking up at least a point and Three Lions fans will be encouraged by their performance when suffering a late sucker-punch against Russia in their first fixture from Marseille.
Lions Failed To Roar
England mustered nine shots against Russia in the first-half and impressed in large parts with a vibrant, energetic performance where the emphasis was almost exclusively on attack. However, the Three Lions failed to score more than once for the 13th occasion in 14 major tournament matches.
Harry Kane didn’t manage a touch in Russia’s penalty box and Roy Hodgson’s questionable substitutions have also come in for criticism. Still, Wayne Rooney excelled in a central midfield position and all in all, Three Lions followers should be enthused by the display in Marseille.
England are unbeaten in their past 12 competitive matches (W10-D2-L0) and clearly boast a stronger squad on paper.
But as we know, games aren’t won on paper and this is the sort of fixture that Wales tend to thrive in.
The Dragons shut up shop in home and away matches with Belgium during qualification and picked up two clean sheets and four points, so the warning signs are there for England.
With that in mind, avoiding England at 4/7 seems a sensible solution, especially with the less than impressive defensive backbone on show. England have only twice shutout their opponents in eight matches now – one of which came against 10-man Portugal minus Cristiano Ronaldo and the other when France pitched up at Wembley just days after the terrible terrorist attacks on Paris.
Led by the world’s most expensive player, Wales have the capacity to cause England problems here and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise at all to see both sides grab a goal.
Both Teams To Score is available at 11/10 and banked in both nations’ opening encounters so looks well worth supporting here.
Both Teams To Score (11/10)
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