Battle lines drawn in England-Wales Euro contest


Chantilly (France) (AFP) – Wayne Rooney’s England and Gareth Bale’s Wales meet in Lens on Thursday with their Euro 2016 ambitions on the line and fears that their followers could spoil the day.

With England at risk of disqualification after fan violence erupted in Marseille at the weekend and amid provocative comments from Welsh star Gareth Bale, focus in the build-up has been on anything but football.

But with the neighbours’ first meeting at a major tournament looming, thoughts have turned to the pitch, where Wales manager Chris Coleman believes England’s tactical tinkering could give his side an edge.

“If you’re looking at England from afar, it’s either going to work for them or it’s not, the fact that they’ve played different formations,” he said on Wednesday.

“So we look at that. Maybe they’re not settled or maybe they’re a bit more settled than we think they are.”

While Wales’s 3-5-1-1 system has been a staple since the start of the qualifying campaign, England manager Roy Hodgson has seemed caught between using a 4-3-3 formation and a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond.

The 4-3-3 got an outing in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Russia in Marseille, but with England’s failure to kill off the game having come back to bite them in injury time, change could be afoot.

Bale, who set the tone for his team’s 2-1 win over Slovakia with a stunning free-kick, has been the Welsh antagoniser-in-chief, accusing England of arrogance and saying that none of their players would get into the Wales team.

However, Coleman described the pre-match sniping as “irrelevant” and his words were echoed by Hodgson, who said: “Talk is talk and action on the field is action on the field.”

More used to doing battle on the rugby pitch, England and Wales are facing off in a major football championship for the first time and the results of the opening round of games have put the Welsh in the driving seat.

Victory will take them into the last 16 and leave Hodgson’s men clinging on for dear life in Group B, but despite the high stakes, Wayne Rooney says England will go about their task calmly.

– British invasion –

Asked what the mindset for the game will be, the England captain said: “The same mentality as we had for Russia. We’re preparing for every game the same.

“We’re not going to prepare differently because we’re playing Wales and we know a lot more of their players as they play in the Premier League.

“It’s the same preparations for this game, whether it’s Wales, Russia or Slovakia. We’re doing our job professionally, preparing well, and it’s down to us as players now.

“We’ve done all our work on the training pitch. Now we’ve got to go out and do it on the pitch.”

Both Hodgson and Rooney have pleaded for the fans travelling to the small industrial city of Lens to behave and there will be 2,400 security personnel on the streets, in addition to an alcohol ban.

The Football Association and Football Association of Wales have both urged fans without tickets not to attend, but despite the Stade Bollaert-Delelis holding only 35,000 fans, between 40,000 and 50,000 British supporters are expected to descend on the city.

Coleman hopes that goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey will be able to play after missing the Slovakia game due to a back spasm, which saw 22-year-old Liverpool reserve Danny Ward handed his first start.

Joe Ledley and Hal Robson-Kanu are both pushing for starting roles after coming off the bench against Slovakia, the latter scuffing in a raucously celebrated 81st-minute winner.

Raheem Sterling’s place may be under threat for England after a poor display on the left flank against Russia.

England’s inability to build on the lead given to them by Eric Dier’s free-kick, meanwhile, could open the door for Daniel Sturridge or Jamie Vardy to come into the team in attack.

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