EURO 2016 ENGLAND VS WALES

EURO 2016 MATCHDAY 2: ARE THE WELSH REALLY THAT GOOD AT FOOTBALL?

Not since 1958 have Wales competed in a major international tournament. 58 years on since they controversially qualified for a World Cup when they finished second in a group to Czechoslovakia (who were disqualified due to growing global political tensions) there have been tensions closer to home resulting from a certain Real Madrid Galactico’s press conference ramblings.

There is no doubting Gareth Bale’s footballing credentials as one of the best talents in the world and he was possibly at least half joking when he stated that not one England player would get in to the Wales team, but his light hearted comments have caused a stir in the media and have certainly given us some time to ponder and given the press something to pester Roy Hodgson with.

Wales certainly got off to a better start than England in their first Euro 2016 group game with a solid if not spectacular win over Slovakia who also earned their first win of the tournament over a hapless Russia side on Wednesday. Solid is a word that may have been used to describe England’s opening game against Russia last weekend until the unthinkable happened in the dying seconds of the game. The result of these last minute defensive jitters is the usual England fan pessimism mixed with the odd dash of ye olde optimism which could be result in a cocktail that is more akin to a Dark and Stormy than a Screaming Orgasm.

England have won a world cup since Wales last competed in a tournament of the magnitude of France Euro 2016 but with the fans of both British sides demanding nothing less than a victory – something has to give. England have won all four of their recent competitive games against their rivals which includes two World Cup and two European Championship qualifiers that date back to 2004.

Statistics almost go out of the window with the nature of this football match and with the pride of two nations (that couldn’t sit closer in geographical terms) at stake the game is set up perfectly for the neutrals.

The star player on the pitch in the England Vs. Wales fixture will of course be Gareth Bale who ironically is the player who ignited this discussion in the first place and he is certainly one player who would walk straight in to the England team, but are the Welsh really that good at football – or would each and every one of their players keep an Englishman out if they were Welsh (you know what we mean)?

THE ENGLISH PLAYERS THAT MIGHT NOT MAKE THE WELSH TEAM

With all but two of the Welsh team that is expected to start against England playing either in the Premier League or the Spanish Primera League there is certainly a fair amount of pedigree.

GOALKEEPERS

Joe Hart is at the top of his game for club and country and England are fairly well blessed in this department. Wayne Hennesey is a good choice for Wales but I think most Welsh fans would take Joe Hart and after plying much of his trade in Shrewsbury in his early days he is probably not too unfamiliar with the Welsh.

DEFENDERS

The England defensive set up has been much maligned but their full backs are far more likely to have freedom to attack than the Welsh. That being said, the Welsh have plenty of options defensively and Ashley Williams and Ben Davies are standout players who could keep out English defenders. Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling could have legitimate concerns over getting in this Welsh side.

MIDFIELDERS

The central midfield areas are pretty competitive and this could be a key battle in the winning of this game. Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey are the two players in the Welsh team that would pose a serious question to the likes of Eric Dier, Dele Alli Adam Lallana and Wayne Rooney – head any further in to the squad and with the exception of Jack Wilshere (who is still searching for full fitness) and it is hard to pick many players who would keep Ramsey and Allen (or the Welsh Pirlo as he has been affectionately nicknamed) at bay.

FORWARDS

The front men for England are some of the best that have been at their disposal at any time. Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney still need to prove they can perform in a major competition but their recent form is excellent and any of them would force their way past Reading’s Robson-Kanu. That being said – Kanu is currently ahead of all of them in goals scored in the tournament but how many of you have him in your fantasy football team.

So whether Gareth Bale was being 50% serious or not, there is probably around 50% truth in his statement. History shows that England should win and most likely without conceding a goal – but stats and history count for little in a game of this magnitude. I know one thing – I will be putting Gareth Bale in my Premier Punt singles game.

PAIN & HOPE OF FOLLOWING ENGLAND

We all know the real reason why major football championships are not one year apart but two. It is because it takes that long for the fans to get over the disappointment of the last one.

Eleven months simply wouldn’t be nearly long enough, but the good news is, two years is enough for the scars to heal, and we are always raring to go.

You know when the time to the first kick off is getting close. When you go to your local supermarket the beer is the cheapest it’s been since Christmas and they are stocked up to the ceiling. The main supermarkets Sainsburys  Asda and Morrisons clearly on the side of England to do well, they would be gutted to see them go out at the group stage. Electrical Stores always sell the latest and largest TV’s in huge numbers before a competition. With a new TV you can get £10 cash back for every goal your team scores. I don’t expect extra time penalties are included though. Gone however seem to be the pairs of red and white St George’s flags that we all used to fly on our cars.

At the peak of the flag historian I always used to think what on earth would overseas visitors make of it all, the country has gone completely football crazy. But what a fabulous show of passion and support that used to display.

There are some changes to this year’s Euro 2016 tournament which really should mean that the six seeded teams all qualify. A bold statement perhaps, but the increase of final teams to 24 means we will only lose EIGHT teams in the group stages to make up a Round of 16. The top two teams and the four best 3rd place teams will go forward. I find it hard to believe that France, Germany, England, Belgium, Spain and Portugal won’t manage that. It would also be hard to discount Italy from Group C of course. In previous years there were two of the higher ranked teams in each group and two qualified. That thankfully has all changed.

Given that the top six (or seven) do qualify then the fun really begins. It is very difficult indeed to split the rest. In Group D for instance, Spain are with Czech Republic Turkey and Croatia, now anyone that can predict 2nd 3rd and 4th in that group will do really well. It honestly could be any order, and that kind of scenario is replicated in most of the groups. Quite possible that the team ranked 4th, Croatia in this example, could finish in 3rd or above and qualify.

This new set up also means that the final group games that are always played at the same time will ALL count. There will be no “dead rubber game” which is pretty clever I think.  It is also even more important to top the group, because getting paired in the round of 16 with a 3rd place team has to be on paper at least, the way to go. I add on paper, because although this sounds simple, it won’t be that easy it never is.

England play Russia Wales and Slovakia and really not qualifying given the above information would be an absolute disaster of massive proportions and I doubt if Roy would survive that. I think England fans would take two wins and a draw as being the minimum. The bookies have made England a really very short 1/10 on to qualify out of Group B and also short favourites to win it.

England winning Group B would see them play the 3rd place team in Group A C or D So a completely impossible prediction to make. If England did win the group they would not know who they play in the round of 16 until Group D is completed on 21st June. If they finished runner up, then they would play the runner up in Group F The advantages of winning the group are there, they always are, and that must be the aim.

France are 3/1 favourites as hosts, we don’t have that much form to go on they have won three friendlies recently against Netherlands Russia and Cameroon, but significantly they conceded two goals in all of those games as well. I also quickly add they did beat Scotland 3-0 in a very late fixture just six days before the opening game. After France it’s Germany 4/1 Spain 5/1 and England 8/1. With Belgium 11/1 and Italy a massive 18/1 and Portugal huge at 20/1 Others Wales 66/1 Rep Ireland 100/1 Northern Ireland 250/1

What about our squad of players, well for me my main player has to Wayne Rooney he is the playmaker, captain and has the most experience. He will agree he has been disappointing in previous tournaments, but he has the chance here to take Group B apart. Roy Hodgson has already come out and said Rooney will be the first name on his team sheet, so love him or hate him, he will be starting. The defence has been solid over the past two years if you look at those results, it seems like he will start with Smalling and Cahill with Stones waiting his turn.

Roy’s problems are however in midfield. He has to first make his mind up on the formation. 4-3-3 or the much talked about diamond 4-2-3-1 which will mean Kane will play up front on his own. Dele Alii looks like starting but I do worry about his temper he has to keep that in check, I am not convinced he can. I always seem to pick him on Premier Punt when he gets booked, which was quite often. Some very stupid ones that could have been avoided.

James Milner is a firm favourite of Roy’s and luckily he has had a very good season for Liverpool. If you have been checking the season long Premier Punt scores which are produced by OPTA it is always a fair guide, (in the single game you score points for a completed pass, shots on target and of course assists and goals) you will have seen that he has scored very high all season long. However there are other options Dier could play. Wilshire also, who was controversially been picked to travel when Leicester City’s Danny Drinkwater was not. Roy has a puzzle and it’s not really clear how he is going to fit it all together..

I think to be fair, he has options with the puzzle, and his first piece, the old corner piece will be Rooney, then he has to decide if he is going to build from the top (attack) or bottom (defence) Will Vardy play or not is the question, I think he will, we need to start well, we need to get three points, and we really need to win the group. No draws required, we need to attack and we need to get the fans running up to the supermarkets to buy that beer for the long haul. We have a route to the Semi-Finals and there is no reason at all why we should not at least get there. I am fully recharged, all scars repaired and ready to go, hope you are also, Have a great tournament everyone.

 

The history of previous tournaments over the past 50 years pretty much ensures us that something dramatic will happen in Euro 2016. The table of highs but mostly disappointments with five penalty shoot-out defeats are below.

 

1966 World Cup Winners

1970 in Mexico England Captain Bobby Moore caught up in a blackmail attempt which involved him being wrongly arrested for stealing a bracelet. England lost to Brazil in one of the most dramatic England games ever played.

1973  Failed to qualify when Poland’s goalkeeper daubed as “A Circus Clown with Gloves” by Brian Clough then probably had the most memorable goal keeping game by any keeper, certainly against England. My first trip to Wembley as well age 16.

1978 Failed to qualify and we were forced to watch Scotland in Argentina.

1982 Just lost out in a second group phase in group a of three with West Germany and Spain, we drew both games which wasn’t good enough.

1986 Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal for Argentina

1988 Euros in Germany England beaten by Republic of Ireland and finished bottom of Group 2

1990 Gazza’s Tears after England lost to West Germany in the semi-finals on penalties Chris Waddle missing the vital one.

1992 Euros Finished bottom of the group with Sweden Denmark and France.

1994 Very disappointing not to qualify for USA

1996 Euros Football coming Home Wembley Lost on penalties in the Semi-Finals to Germany

1998 World Cup Beckham sent off against Argentina which changed the game we lost.

2000 Euros Lost to Portugal and Romania and failed to qualify from the Group

2001 Beckham’s last second free kick ensures England beat Greece to qualify for World Cup.

2002 Another dramatic game against Brazil in the quarter final’s which we lost 2-1

2004 Euros Lost in quarter-final to Portugal on penalties

2006 World Cup Lost in quarter- final to Portugal on penalties

2008 Euros Failed to Qualify, Greece won the tournament

2010 World Cup Beaten by Germany 4-1 in the round of 16.

2012  Euros Losing to Italy after a 0-0 marathon on penalties..

2014  World Cup Losing to Italy in the Jungle in Brazil meant we needed to win two out of two, we got just one draw and were on the way home, bitterly disappointed again.

2016 Qualified with 10 wins from 10 games. The hope returns.

 

Optimistic Punt