The upcoming European Championship promises to be an intriguing tournament thanks to the increase from sixteen to twenty-four participating teams, with three of the Home Nations travelling to France in the hope of glory. England, Wales and Northern Ireland will fly the flag for the United Kingdom this summer, and while the other two will make their debuts at a European Championship, Roy Hodgson’s men will look to end fifty years of hurt in all competitions.
It felt inevitable that the Euro 2016 draw would throw up a Battle of Britain during the group stage, and it did not disappoint with England set to face Wales in a mouth-watering Group B clash that could prove pivotal. Betway have installed the Three Lions as favourites to win the game, but although both nations may have contrasting ambitions as to how far they can progress in the tournament, they will value the fixture as a great opportunity to get one over on a rival.
Qualifying for their first ever European Championship is testament to the progress made by Wales under Chris Coleman, with the team enjoying an excellent campaign in which they conceded a mere four goals. A memorable victory against Belgium at the Millennium Stadium was unquestionably the highlight, with Wales’ star man coming to the fore when his country needed him. Gareth Bale will carry the weight of hope and expectation of an entire country this summer, with the world’s most expensive footballer possessing the quality that will be required if Wales are to exceed expectations and reach the latter stages. Achieving this feat is certainly not beyond their range, although Coleman will not only need their defensive resilience to come to the fore once again, but also for the likes of Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Ashley Williams to shine in France. Making it past the group stages would be valued as an achievement, but while Wales fans will enjoy the experience of their country participating at a major international tournament, the team will not be travelling to Euro 2016 to merely make up the numbers.
Wales will not be expected to pull up any trees at Euro 2016, but they will certainly relish the opportunity of facing England in an intriguing Battle of Britain clash. Those who feel brave enough to pick a winner can log onto Betway’s website to find England v Wales betting odds, and although Hodgson is widely expected to get one over on Coleman, it could prove to be a close encounter between two teams who possess quality in the final third. History would suggest that the bookmakers are right to back England as not only have they won 66 of the previous 101 meetings between the two sides in all competitions, but also Wales have came out on top just 14 times. You have to go back to 1984 to find the last time that Wales overcame their British rivals, with Mark Hughes’ goal on his international debut making the difference in a 1-0 win at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground. The most recent encounters came during the qualification campaigns for the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2012, with England coming out victorious in all four fixtures without conceding a single goal.
The game on June 16th may ultimately come down to which of the star names on show for either team step up to the plate and deliver. England will have to find a way to keep Bale quiet throughout the entire ninety minutes, while also trying to break down a stubborn Welsh defence which is unlikely to give anything away. Bale’s pace, directness and wonderful left foot are likely to provide Wales’ best hope of overcoming England who, despite recent impressive performances in international friendlies, remain suspect at the back.
Hodgson may look to his midfielders to cut out the supply to Bale as a way of nullifying the threat, and with players such as Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Eric Dier in superb form at club level, the considerable wave of confidence flowing through the England squad could be enough to overpower Wales at the other end. England captain Wayne Rooney, who has been absent from recent international camps due to injury, could also have a key role to play, with Hodgson likely to put faith in his talismanic leader who could make a real impact from a deep-lying midfield position.
Going into Euro 2016 with lowered expectation levels may illustrate the lack of belief shared across fans and pundits alike that England have the quality to lift the trophy at the Stade de France, but it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The element of freedom which allowed players to express themselves was evident during friendly victories against France and Germany, with Vardy, Kane and Ross Barkley all shining in England colours as their confidence transferred onto the international stage.
However, the manner of defeat against the Netherlands at Wembley was another reminder that England should not get carried away and believe that they are serious Euro 2016 contenders; a lack of spark and creativity, combined with slow build-up play and a feeling of going through the phases, led to England’s downfall, and although Vardy rounded off an excellent move with a well-taken finish, it proved to be the only bright spark in an otherwise flat display. Hodgson will know they have to be much better if they harbour any hopes of reaching the latter stages, and although they should fancy their chances of getting past Group B opponents Wales, Russia and Slovakia, any complacency or repeats of the Netherlands performance could result in a shock early exit for the Three Lions.