English and Welsh fans were licking their lips when the two teams were drawn together in Group B at Euro 2016.
England’s disappointing draw with Russia followed by Wales’ victory over Slovakia as well as comments from both sides means the game has taken on an extra level of importance.
With a plethora of talent on display from both sides, we look at the key battles to see where the game can be won or lost..
Cahill & Smalling v Bale
This is arguably the most crucial battle of the entire game with the world’s most expensive player Gareth Bale looking to continue where he left off on Saturday, but can the defensive duo of Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling shut him out?
Much has been made of England’s defensive frailties, so to come up against such a talent in Bale so early will be a clear indication as to whether these two have what it takes to help England go far in the competition.
The ability of the Welshman is evident, it’s up to Cahill and Smalling to nullify the Real Madrid man. I would suspect Hodgson will tell his players whoever is closest to Bale, shut down instantly, don’t allow him to have the time and space to pick the ball up and run at the England defence.
If you shut Bale out, do you shut Wales out? Not quite but he has a huge bearing on how well this team plays being the talisman and go to man when Wales need someone.
The pairing of Cahill and Smalling looked solid throughout on Saturday evening, although lapses of concentration won’t be allowed on Thursday with Bale lurking. The duo will have to be solid throughout otherwise it could be a long afternoon in Lens.
Kane v Williams
It was a quiet evening in Marseille on Saturday for Harry Kane who failed to make the impact many had expected, especially after the season the Tottenham frontman had.
The 22 year-old seemed isolated throughout with no one able to support him when he very rarely did find possession, if he had a tough night on Saturday he’ll no doubt be expecting another on Thursday coming up against a familiar face in Swansea City’s Ashley Williams. The Wales captain was outstanding in their opener, marshalling the back line and he’ll be motivated once again to keep Kane out.
Kane was one of the players to suffer criticism after England’s draw with Russia, so will be under extra pressure to find the back of the net against the Welsh to keep his place in the side.
Despite his phenomenal record this year, one of the few teams Kane failed to score against was Williams’ Swansea City, making their individual battle all the more interesting.
Rose & Walker v Wales’ back three
Chris Coleman’s set up his side with a back three in the opening game against Slovakia with Ben Davies and James Chester either side of captain Williams. Whilst it does have its positives as you’re still able to maintain five in midfield, as well as two upfront, it has it’s flaws and the flaws are where England could potentially win the game.
Three at the back leaves you somewhat exposed in the wide areas, no doubt Chris Gunter and Neil Taylor will sit and make it a back five if under pressure, however with the speed of England’s forward players in Raheem Sterling, Deli Alli, Jamie Vardy and co, Wales’ backline seem susceptible to a good counter attack and any space Wales leave will be exploited.
This will give Tottenham full backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, who had exceptional seasons under the guidance of Maurcio Pochettino, the impetus to get forward and spark quick breaks. The pair certainly added a different dimension to his side going forward and they’ll have a huge role in making the most of that space.
We saw a glimpse of what both players can do in Marseille, can they deliver when England need it most?