A bullish Gareth Bale has reiterated his belief that Wales can beat England in Thursday’s hotly-anticipated Euro 2016 derby clash.
Much has been made of Bale’s comments last week, when he claimed Wales have “more passion and pride” than their English counterparts – a remark labelled “disrespectful” by Three Lions boss Roy Hodgson.
The Real Madrid star went on to score the first goal in Wales’ 2-1 victory over Slovakia in their Group B opener, before England were denied a win by Russia captain Vasili Berezutski’s injury-time equaliser in Marseille.
Those results mean Chris Coleman’s team head into Thursday’s historic fixture – which will be the 102nd meeting between the Home Nations, but the first in a major tournament – in command of the pool and knowing that a win will assure them of a place in the last 16.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Bale insisted he meant no disrespect to England – before grinning and answering “none” to a question about how many of Hodgson’s players would get into the Welsh side.
“We know that England are a bigger nation and have a lot more players to choose from, but I think we’ve closed the gap massively,” said the 26-year-old.
“We know they’re a good team, we know we’re a good team. I’m sure if they put in a good performance, they’ll feel like they can beat us, and we’re exactly the same.
“If we work as a team again, work together and play well, we feel we can win. Come the game, we’ll be looking forward to it and preparing to win.”
Bale began his journey to becoming the world’s most expensive footballer and a double Champions League winner at Southampton.
He played alongside Adam Lallana at St Mary’s Stadium and the England man, now of Liverpool, was fulsome in his praise for his former team-mate on Tuesday.
Lallana told a pre-match news conference that Bale ranks among the top five players in the world, but was quick to stress that Wales are by no means a one-man team.
“He’s a good friend of mine and a very good player, we all know that. But they’ve got other very good players, like Joe Allen who I play with [at Liverpool] and is a top-quality player,” Lallana said.
“Aaron Ramsey is another one. We can’t be naive and focus only on Gareth, that would be the wrong thing to do.”
Lallana also insisted that England have recovered from the blow of Berezutski’s late goal at the Stade Velodrome and are raring to go again in Lens.
“It’s definitely out of our system. I had a drugs test after the game and after 10-15 minutes of sitting around I was over the disappointment, taking the positives from the game and focusing on Wales,” he added.
“The belief is huge due to how we started the match the other night – our belief, our intent, our focus.
“You’ve got to respect Wales, but we feel that if we play the same way we did the other night then we’ve got a great chance of winning.”
Key Opta stats:
– Wales have failed to beat England in seven of their last eight attempts (W1, D1, L6). Their most recent win came back in May 1984, when Mark Hughes scored in a 1-0 victory in Wrexham.
– This is only the second time England are facing another country from the UK in a major tournament, after beating Scotland 2-0 at Euro 1996.
– Wales have only scored twice in their last eight meetings with England, failing to get on the scoresheet in the four most recent meetings with their neighbours.
– England have failed to score more than once in 13 of their last 14 matches at a major tournament.
– England mustered nine shots against Russia in the first half, their most in the opening 45 minutes of a Euros match since 2004 (11 v Croatia).