England v Wales: Rooney and co equipped to silence bullish Bale
It’s a full-blooded derby on the grand stage, so making bold predictions about England’s Group B clash with Wales is laced with difficulty.
Comparing the countries’ respective qualifying records for Euro 2016 might have been the obvious place to begin tackling the task, but even England’s flawless campaign has to be taken with a pinch of salt, given the severe lack of testing opposition.
The Dragons’ tails are up after defeating Slovakia 2-1 on their Euros finals debut, while England have to deal with the pressure of starting two points in arrears, after Russia got out of jail by pegging the Three Lions back to 1-1 in the 93rd minute.
A history of English domination more than any other factor sees Roy Hodgson’s men installed as the 8/15 favourites, off the back of four successive wins to nil since the last Welsh victory back in 1984.
The underdog tag is one Wales’ star player Gareth Bale has baulked at in the build up though, suggesting among other provocative claims that ‘not one England player’ would get into the 13/2 shot’s starting XI.
Although the Real Madrid forward may safely be the first name on either teamsheet, even he will be aware this bravado is a little transparent, given three of Chris Coleman’s starting XI against Slovakia played their football in the Championship last season.
Bale may have a point about spirit and passion, but when assessing this particular England side, it’s arguably the most cohesive squad since 1996.
If their respective opening displays in France are the most authentic gauges, then despite conceding deep into injury time, it’s Hodgson’s men who appeared to be most fluent.
England completed 94 more passes, enjoyed 52 per cent compared to 44 per cent possession over their respective opponent and registered 16 shots to Wales’ 11.
For those who watched, Wayne Rooney’s influence in midfield was as important for his side as Bale’s tireless running and free-kick goal were against Slovakia, with the former a crossbar’s width from joining his counterpart on the scoresheet.
If England can get click into gear early in the same sort of raiding fashion as they did against the Russians, and crucially earn their just rewards with a goal, then it could be a tough night for Wales in Lens.
It’s 2/5 that England score first, but the 1-0 (5/2) or 2-0 to the favourites by half time is far more appealing at 11/2.
If Hodgson’s side can handle the pressure, and it’s a big if, then the superior quality on the park should shine through as it did over Russia, minus the goals the performance warranted.
Alternatively, Bale putting his money where his mouth is with a goal in a famous Welsh victory over their neighbours is 6/1.
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