Fabio Capello and his England players will start work on a strategy aimed at nullifying Gareth Bale in Saturday's Euro 2012 qualifier at the Millennium Stadium, with Peter Crouch reflecting the threat posed by his Tottenham Hotspur team-mate by admitting "if we can stop him, we can stop Wales".
With the hubbub over the national captaincy finally dying down, Capello has switched attention firmly towards a potentially awkward occasion in Cardiff. Though Wales are ranked 116th in the world, England recognise they will be confronted by a Premier League-type contest, with the Welsh whipped into a frenzy by a derby atmosphere. The manager has already moved to focus minds and denied some of his players' requests to play golf at their Hertfordshire hotel, instead ordering them to rest in their rooms through the afternoon despite the balmy spring weather.
Capello still enjoys the full complement of his 26-man squad from which to choose and is considering whether to draft Scott Parker into his starting line-up on Saturday, with the West Ham midfielder offering energy and steel in the centre. His inclusion, most likely alongside Jack Wilshere, may come at the expense of Frank Lampard, who captained the national side in last month's friendly in Denmark.
Regardless, England are expected to double up defensively on their right flank to stifle Bale and James Milner is likely to switch to that side to offer industry up and down the pitch in support of Glen Johnson at right-back. Such a tactic is understandable given the manager's admiration for Bale, whom he described as "the No1 player in the world in his position" and "my player of the season so far" this month.
Crouch, who benefits from playing alongside the rampaging winger at White Hart Lane, acknowledged the quality England must confront. "He's their biggest threat, that's no secret," he said. "He's a top-class player and has been on fire for the last two years. It's something we will be looking at. We only assess opponents on the Thursday and Friday and we'll look at videos and I'm sure Gareth will be prominent in those. We might have to double up on him – West Ham coped with our wingers well on Saturday and Gareth had one of his quietest games. But sometimes, with his sheer energy, he can be unplayable.
"When it comes to the 'best player in the world', he's got some way to go to be Lionel Messi's standard. He sets the bar extremely high. Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are out there on their own at the moment, with the sheer number of goals they've scored. Gareth is only young, developing and in that position [left-back/left midfield] he's got to be up there with the top players in the world.
"He's done it in the Champions League. What he did to Internazionale, over two games, showed people what he is capable of and what he will do in the future. If we can stop him, we can stop a lot of what Wales do."
Bale has excelled in Europe's elite club competition this season, scoring a stunning hat-trick at San Siro last autumn against Internazionale and then embarrassing the Brazil right-back, Maicon, as Spurs won convincingly in the return fixture at White Hart Lane. The 21-year-old has emphasised that Wales will prevail against the English only if they raise themselves collectively as a team. "I don't think any player can carry the whole team and it's about the team playing well together and not individuals," he said. "As long as we work as a team, then I think we can go a long way." Yet he remains Wales's most potent threat, with Capello having spied similarities with a young Roberto Carlos in his style of play.
"He is a big explosion, physically," he has said. "But he is also so good technically: every pass, every cross, every time, he is dangerous. When you prepare for a game you have to prepare to defend when he receives the ball."
That will most likely involve Milner tracking back in support of Johnson down the right side with Ashley Young, impressive in the friendly victory in Copenhagen, potentially preferred on the left wing charged with supplying Andy Carroll and Wayne Rooney up front.
England will be wary, too, of the threat posed by Crouch's former Liverpool team-mate Craig Bellamy despite the player featuring in the Championship this term on loan from Manchester City to Cardiff City. The forward enjoyed a brief and controversial season at Anfield – his performances were overshadowed by an incident where he allegedly attacked his team-mate, John Arne Riise, with a golf club on a training break in Portugal – with Bellamy making an impression on Crouch, too.
"I remember him shouting and screaming at me during one training session," he added. "I pulled him afterwards and said: 'What was that about?' He said he doesn't know he does it, and said: 'That's just the way I play and I have to shout to get myself geed up for a game.' That's fully understandable. He'd only been there a week. But it's the way he fires himself up he has to be shouting and screaming and he's a top, top player."
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