Roy Hodgson has insisted his England players would feel “ashamed” if they allowed themselves to be distracted by Wales’ provocative rhetoric before the teams’ eagerly anticipated meeting at Stade Bollaert-Delelis and has dismissed the talk as cheap.
The buildup to the Group B fixture has featured Gareth Bale claiming his team-mates have more passion and pride than their opponents, an assertion the Real Madrid forward followed up by saying none of Hodgson’s players is good enough to make the Wales team. Chris Coleman’s side have the early momentum in the section and their manager was quick to speak of the “circus” which surrounds England, in terms of heightened expectations, as Wales seek to secure a first success in 32 years against more fancied opponents.
While Coleman pointed out his players are free to express their opinions, with no qualms about upsetting opponents, his opposite number refused to be drawn on the issue. “Talk is talk, action on the field is action on the field,” Hodgson said. “If we – myself and my players – really took it seriously, thinking about what people in the other team are saying ahead of a game, and allowed it to affect our concentration, then we’d all be very ashamed of ourselves.
“We’re perfectly satisfied with the passion we bring to our game and we don’t doubt our desire, our commitment or our wish to do well in the tournament. If others think they’re better at it, fine by me. I’ve not heard anyone in the squad making reference to any comments that have been made. Whenever you play a game you will be classed as underdog or favourite but it really doesn’t make a ha’p’orth of difference when that whistle blows. We know what we’ve got to do. We think we will be ready to do it. The reality of football rests on that patch of green between 90 and 95 minutes.”
Coleman, whose side will strive for a 15th win in a fixture first staged 137 years ago, was asked if Wales had mounted a deliberate campaign to try to unsettle England. “Whether it was or wasn’t, it’s all about opinions,” he said. “If that’s their opinion, that’s up to them. They’re grown men. We can’t worry about upsetting the opposition, whoever they are. And we can’t be afraid to give our opinions. Whatever the lads think, that’s up to them. But it was always going to turn into this: he said this, he said that. And all that stuff is irrelevant. It’s all about what happens on the pitch.
“We didn’t want to be in the same group as England because of the circus that comes with them. That’s not their fault. There’s a lot expected of them because they’ve had a lot of great players down the years, and every time they go into a tournament there’s expectation and a lot of pressure. A lot more on them than is on us. We didn’t want to get caught up in that but we knew what was coming with this game, what would be on the menu. But England are just an obstacle in front of us, our own expectations come from within the group. We expect to compete against the best. We’ve got good players. Everyone wants to talk about one of them, and that’s fine, but we’ve got a good team.”
While the Welsh welcome back the Crystal Palace pair Wayne Hennessey and Joe Ledley to the lineup after injury, with Coleman having suggested the opposition “may not be settled” on a system, England are expected to field an unchanged side from the Stade Vélodrome with Wayne Rooney again deployed in midfield.
While there is no specific plan to man-mark Bale, they have performed training drills with him in mind, with the coaching staff asking Ross Barkley to run at pace with the ball at his team-mates in an attempt to replicate the effect the Wales forward might have.
“Yet the hope is they will be able to impose themselves more efficiently as an attacking force. Raheem Sterling will be retained despite describing himself as “#thehatedone” on social media after seeing his display tail off in Marseille. “He played well and has been as bright as a button in training sessions,” Hodgson said. “He caused the Russians a lot of problems.”
The manager also offered Harry Kane, who endured a difficult match on Saturday, a vote of confidence as the Tottenham Hotspur striker prepares to make his 118th appearance for club or national set-up over the past two seasons.
“If you ask the question is it possible that a player who has played a lot of games could be feeling tired at the end of the season, then of course it is something we’ve discussed every time we go into a tournament,” Hodgson said.
“We discuss how our players can perform after a long hard Premier League season and if there’s enough juice in their legs to do the job. Watching training, and the game, I haven’t had any severe doubts about that … I didn’t particularly notice he was struggling.”
Yet, where England ended frustrated by their inability to transform dominance into goals against Russia – Hodgson has now overseen five games in succession without a win at a major tournament – the onus will be to impose themselves on Wales. “We’ve got a lot of good players, they’ve got some good players, so it’s going to be an interesting game,” Rooney said. “I imagine we will have a lot of the ball and we will have to work very hard to break them down but I hope they come out and try to press [us] because that will benefit us.
“The other night was a good performance and, if we perform in a similar way, we’ve certainly got a great chance of winning the game. We have to be clinical but, if we perform to our potential, it will be difficult not just for Wales but for any team to stop us.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010