This is the match that everybody has been looking forward to since the draw, and is one of the standout fixtures of the group stages. It has been made even more interesting by the first round of results in Group B. Wales managed to win their opening fixture against Slovakia and looked very accomplished throughout. Meanwhile England played extremely well against Russia, dominating the game, but they failed to kill the match and were punished as a result. Wales are the underdogs despite topping the group after the first game.
The violence in France has been taking the headlines, and we have to hope that there are no similar scenes in Lens. The majority of players play in England, which should lead to a more physical, Premier League-style match than an international contest.
England opted to play a 4-3-3 and used Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling in the wide positions. It was a good decision as the side looked more dynamic in attack. Although the final ball was lacking, especially from Raheem Sterling, whose confidence is shot into bits, it was still a pleasing display. The late equaliser from Russia was very disappointing, but it could be a positive in the long run and force Roy Hodgson into being more positive going forwards. His decision to bring on James Milner over Jamie Vardy was much maligned and was certainly a contributing factor to the end result.
Meanwhile, Wales fans will be a lot more positive going into this match after winning their first ever match in the European Championships. They also have a lot less pressure on them than England, who need a positive result, while a draw in this one for Wales will consolidate their position. They played three at the back with Chris Gunter and Neil Taylor as wing backs, which was an interesting decision, but paid off. They may opt for a back four against England, especially as England have full backs that push on, and may look to exploit Wales on the flanks.
The last meetings between the two sides came in the qualification process for Euro 2012, and England won both matches. In 101 matches, Wales have only won 14 matches, while England have won 66. They have never met at a major tournament, and it will be interesting how the first meeting plays out.
England have never won their opening fixture at a European Championships in nine attempts, meanwhile Wales now have a 100% record in their opening fixtures.
Hal Robson-Kanu’s goal was the first competitive goal scored by Wales that wasn’t scored by either Gareth Bale or Aaron Ramsey.
There has been no goal scored from a direct free kick by a British side in the European Championships before Saturday, when two were scored.
The decision to play 4-3-3 has given England a much more attacking look and Dele Alli has really benefited from the decision. He is the player expected to bomb on with regularity, with Rooney not having the engine to do so any more. He showed glimpses of his ability in the opening game, but there is much more to come from the midfielder, who was one of the breakout stars of the Premier League this year. This championships will tell us a lot about Alli as at international level, defences are much better organised and he will have to create his own space, whereas in the Premier League, it is less tactically focused and there is a lot more space in the final third. This is why this match will suit Alli as he will be playing against a side filled with Premier League and Championship players, and there could be a lot of space in the attacking half as a result. England lacked a final ball against Russia and Alli could be the answer to that he gets on the ball more in dangerous positions. He is very skillful and good at beating players, while his relationship with Harry Kane is established, and that could be important for England going forwards.
Wales have their key players down the spine of their side in Ashley Williams, Joe Allen, Joe Ledley (if fit), Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale, and this is why they are such an effective side at international level. In the first match, Ramsey was under par and didn’t have the influence on the match that he would have liked. He did manage to get a nice assist for the winner, but overall his play was poor, especially on the ball. The Arsenal midfielder will have to be much better on Thursday and there will be no excuses as he will be coming up against players that he is used to playing against. England play attacking football, and have two attacking minded midfielders, which could leave space for Ramsey to exploit. He has a good relationship with Bale at international level, and he is central to getting Bale on the ball in dangerous positions. If Ramsey plays like he did on Saturday, England will be confident of shutting down the Wales attack.
Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane both face question marks about their ability to retain a starting place. Kane has enough credit in the bank to be given the next two group matches at least, but Sterling looked shot of confidence, and Hodgson may opt to play Jamie Vardy against Wales. Chris Gunter isn’t be best defensively and England will look to exploit him.
Joe Ledley came on in the opening match after recovering from a broken leg in an extraordinarily quick time. He could be pushing for a start, while Coleman may opt to start Hal Robson-Kanu. This would allow Bale to play deeper and he could be more influential there.
I expect it to be a great game of football, with both sides looking to attack and I would be surprised if both teams don’t score. However, England should be better at managing games at this level and I expect that to show in Lens. I expect England to win a tight contest and give themselves the platform to win the group. The only doubt about England is their ability to deal with the pressure as a loss on Thursday would put them in a perilous position in the group.
England 2-1 Wales