Roy Hodgson has told his England players to rise above the “disrespectful” comments from their Euro 2016 opponents after showing his disdain for Gareth Bale’s assertion that Wales will play with more national fervour when the two sides meet in Lens on Thursday.
Bale’s claim that the Welsh players had “a lot more passion and pride about us than them” has gone down badly in the English camp and Hodgson says he has grown weary of their games being preceded by what he considers to be inflammatory remarks from opposition players.
“The other day it was Igor Akinfeev [Russia’s goalkeeper] saying we were the worst seeded team in the group, and now it’s Gareth Bale,” Hodgson said. “They can have those opinions. I don’t have any doubts personally about our patriotism and our desire and that’s the most important thing. If he [Bale] believes that’s the case, he’s welcome to that opinion.
“I’m afraid the fact is that receiving disrespectful comments is part and parcel of being a footballer and a football coach. I’m pretty sure there will be lots of players in opposing teams who have opinions about us, too. But we know who we are, we know what we are.
“We don’t have any doubts about ourselves in that respect and that’s the most important thing. It’s a tight dressing room. It’s a passionate dressing room and I would recommend anybody who does have doubts about our players to watch our game [against Russia] and then come to me and tell me where they have seen that lack of passion and lack of patriotism – because I certainly didn’t see it.”
Wales will go into the match on Thursday knowing that, if they follow up their their 2-1 victory against Slovakia with another win they could conceivably confirm themselves as Group B winners with a game to spare, booking what should, in theory, be an easier tie in the first knockout round against one of the third-placed finishers.
Hodgson sent a message of congratulations to Chris Coleman’s team but it would not be a complete surprise if England’s players are reminded about Bale’s comments before the game at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis. England’s players, in contrast, have been briefed not to say anything contentious about Wales and, though Bale is hardly known as a controversial talker, the England captain, Wayne Rooney, was also unimpressed.
“That’s what he feels but I’m sure all us English players will feel differently,” Rooney said. “He’s obviously a proud Welshman, which he should be. It’s where he’s from but we’re from England and we’re very proud Englishmen. We are proud, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
Hodgson has given his players Monday off as they try to move on from the disappointment in Marseille of losing a 1-0 lead against the Russians in stoppage time. Hodgson admitted being “bitterly disappointed” and he was also aggrieved that the scorer, Vasili Berezutski, had said in the buildup that England’s manager probably did not know the names of the opposition players.
Hodgson was subsequently asked by a Russian reporter whether he now knew Berezutski’s name and the England manager was visibly irritated. “I don’t give a monkey’s what’s written in the Russian press about me,” he said. “I don’t give a shit. It was just a ludicrous question.
“I think it goes back to when the draw was made and a guy asked me: ‘How much do you know about the Russian players?’ I said: ‘I don’t know a lot because we found out only a few seconds ago we are playing Russia but you can be damned sure that when the game comes around I shall know an awful lot about Russia and all the players.’ It was an honest and sensible answer, but now apparently I know nothing about Russian football.”
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