Early Doors

Five reasons why Wales can beat England

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After what felt like an interminable week with hardly any football to speak of, the game finally returns this weekend as the latest round of Euro 2012 qualifiers gets underway.

Well the game returned last night, in fact, as England U21s won 4-0 in Denmark - but that was a mere hors d'oeuvre to whet the appetite for this weekend's cross-Severn ding-dong between Wales and England in Cardiff.

Even following the withdrawal of their simian star man Gareth Bale, this fixture promises a grandiose occasion and hard-fought contest, something distinctly absent in matches involving England of late.  

They may have lost all three of their Group G matches - shipping six goals and scoring just once in the process - but rest assured that Wales will not roll over for their domineering neighbours on Saturday.

Here are reasons for them to have belief that they can beat England:

England's form

That is, both in this fixture and in general of late. England's last three visits to the Welsh capital have all ended 1-0, twice to England either side of Mark Hughes grabbing the winner on his debut in 1984.

Leaving aside matches played on neutral turf, England have only kept one clean sheet in their last six away games. An improved showing in the 2-1 win in Denmark last time out was needed after the preceding limp friendly defeat to France and the stalest of goalless draws with Montenegro who - lest we forget - are group leaders.

However, as with last summer's World Cup, it is not so much the results themselves but the manner of them that is disappointing.

Captains and managers

One boss and his leader on the pitch are a pair of grizzled, unpopular men who have gained bags of experience in their trophy-laden careers. Their counterparts are likable, highly-respected and virtually as novice as they could be in their respective roles.

John Terry began the week admitting that he is "not everyone's cup of tea" as he began his third (THIRD!) stint as England captain, a decision which has led to even more criticism of manager Fabio Capello. Still, that's hardly going to affect the Italian. Not so much because of his rigorously unflappable nature, but because it seems he simply doesn't care anymore. With about £7.5m-worth of salary to pick up between now and the end of Euro 2012, he cuts the figure of a man happy to put in minimum effort for maximum financial return as he rides out his contract.

By contrast, Gary Speed took charge of Wales last December with just 18 matches and six wins under his belt from his short stint at Sheffield United. Still, you don't make close to 900 career appearances without knowing a thing or two about the game and how to handle the media, and he has brought a new wave of optimism and forward-thinking into the squad after the departure of the defeated John Toshack. The employment of a highly-skilled backroom staff and the embracement of new technologies such as GPS tracking is helping to drag Welsh football into the 21st century.

Part of that move towards the future has seen him name Aaron Ramsey (20 years old, 11 caps, two goals) as the new Wales captain. He would not have given the armband to the Arsenal midfielder if he did not believe he could deliver, and his incredulous reaction when one hack responded "really?" to the announcement confirmed as much.

The Cardiff atmosphere

If anyone had been concerned that ticket sales for the Millennium Stadium may prove sluggish given the game's clash with England's World Cup quarter-final against Sri Lanka (after all, it is the England AND Wales cricket team), they needn't have worried: the match is of course a sell-out, the first since England's last visit in 2005.

While former Wales captain Chris Coleman is right that most of England's players play in stadia of similar standard on a regular basis, the vociferous atmosphere whipped up by the home crowd will be like nothing they will have experienced at the San Siro or the Camp Nou.

If the home crowd, craving success over the English all the more following this year's defeat there in a thrilling Six Nations opener, is in full voice to belt out Land Of My Fathers and the players can keep them buoyed with a strong start, then every man jack in the ground can help play their part.

Unfamiliar England team

If many reports are to be believed, this could be the first time that neither Steven Gerrard nor Frank Lampard have lined up for England in a competitive match since 2002. A midfield of Jack Wilshere and Scott Parker has plenty of talent contained within it, and of a complementary nature, but with just six caps between them can they gel together quickly enough to make an impact against Ramsey and Joe Ledley - another pairing which lacks neither technique or dynamism.

As well as Wilshere looking forward to his third full cap, new striker and Saviour Of English Football Andy Carroll will win only his second. In fact, there are 12 players in the England squad who have each earned less than 10 caps.

It's England

Few sides at the top level of world football have the ability to wilt under pressure quite as much as England. When they absolutely had to avoid defeat against Croatia, they lost. When they had the chance to get sweet revenge over a young Germany side, they went to pieces. 'Must win' is a two-word combination that doesn't go well with the Three Lions for this generation. With only group winners assured of qualification for 2012, every match is vital.

Plus, the last time England played any of the other nations of Britain and Ireland, it didn't turn out so well: a 1-0 defeat to Scotland at Wembley, a loss by the same scoreline in Northern Ireland and a 1-1 draw with the Republic at Italia 90.

England are favourites (2/5 compared to Wales' 7-1), and deservedly so, but there is also plenty to suggest that if they don't take their step into the dragons' den seriously then they will get burnt.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I wouldn't want to sell him for £100 million, not even for a billion. He's the hub of the team." - Not long after suggesting that Lionel Messi is worth £500m, Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp again displays his natural talent for understatement by saying he would not sell talismanic playmaker Luka Modric for 10-times that amount.

FOREIGN VIEW: "I will return if a situation turns up that I like. I want to do another two or three years but not in Italy, abroad. Every time (Juventus) have had difficulties in recent years my name has cropped up. There was contact but a few years ago. I won't return in Italy." - World Cup-winning manager and former Juve boss Marcelo Lippi takes a leaf out of Jose Mourinho's book and helps narrow down the list of jobs he would take.

BAD SCIENCE OF THE DAY: An artificial cloud has been designed at Qatar University which could be the solution to the summer heat at the 2022 World Cup. The cloud, manufactured from light carbon materials and helium gas, can be held in place by solar power and moved by remote control. No, really.

COMING UP: Finally, we have some football! Follow live coverage this evening of Serbia v Northern Ireland (19:30) plus all five of the other Euro 2012 qualifiers this evening.

Jim White and Paul Parker will both be filing their latest blogs, while we have videos profiling the potential midfield battle between Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey and a look at the top 10 players of the Premier League season thus far.

Plus, this morning is your last chance to ask Roberto Mancini a question, while it's the final part of Tony Adams's exclusive interview in The Dugout.

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