By Danny Hunter – Chief Football Writer
After finding the single most effective cure for my insomnia by pretending to be Michael Owen it is time I got back to myself and actually did some football writing. Today could not be a better day for my return to form, England play Wales in Lens, and what a game it shall be.
Roy Hodgson’s men looked sparkling at time, and lacklustre at others, in their opener against Russia. Their attacks, though sharp and promising, were ultimately wasteful and fruitless. Only Eric Dier’s curling missile of a free kick did not go to waste. Meanwhile, at the back, the predicted instability was evident, with Russia’s goal being the result of numerous consecutive defensive errors.
Wales, on the other hand, got off to a flyer against Slovakia. Looking like a fearless side, playing with the verve and naiveté of a team that have been out of big tournament football for a while and who came not to meet expectations, not to please press and braying fans, but to have fun and play football. it is a dangerous attitude of skill, resilience and confidence that could be England’s undoing.
For Wales, I doubt there is much talk of changing the team around. Gareth Bale seems so full of energy it’s a little wonder guys from CERN up the road aren’t experimenting on him. Likewise with strike Hal Robson-Kanu, whose effervescence makes a freshly opened bottle of coke look flat. Their defence is solid, and is well versed at operating under pressure. Many times in qualifying, the Welsh grit and determination outdid their opponent’s skill. Linking it all up is a midfield that was weirdly possibly the weakest part of Wales’ game. Joe Allen controlled things very well, but Aaron Ramsey was sometimes guilty of trying to be a bit too cute. No doubt, though, Chris Coleman has instructed him to keep it simple. Not one of Wales’ players performed under a 7/10 in their opener against Slovakia, and it seems unlikely there will be wholesale changes.
For England, however, some things may need to be considered. Joe Hart has been much maligned in the past, and it shows no signs of abating as many people put him at fault for the Russian equaliser. The whole defence seems untested and lacking balance. Gary Cahill was solid, but also made some rash decisions and picked up a foolish booking. Danny Rose looked so wet behind the ears he was virtually drowning – Yet his debut against Germany showed him to be a fine player at left back. Perhaps the occasion, his first game on a big stage, got the better of him. Raheem Sterling had all of the impact of a polystyrene meteorite. He looked impressive at times, then failed with control, or delivered a disappointing final ball. However, his pace is a vital asset (he is allegedly the fastest sprinter at the tournament) and will be much needed against sturdier defences. Can they afford to drop him and let his confidence dip? Not to mention the firm criticism coming from many sources that suggest having the Premier League’s top goalscorer taking the corners, as opposed to receiving them. It all begs questions.
Michael Owen at this time would suggest that if either side can score goals, and keep the opposition from scoring, they will win the game. We must congratulate Michael on the strength and depth of his knowledge after a lifetime in the beautiful game. However I believe this is a match won and lost in the mind.
There is no doubt England have what it takes to beat Wales. Their talented young team are all superstars or in the process of earning that status. However, they will be delicate after their opening draw and potentially distracted by the off-the-ball events surrounding their fans. They may have one eye on whether or not they will be banned from the tournament due to fan violence, even. Wales, on the other hand, have nothing to lose and everything to gain and are playing like it. If they can put England under pressure, which they will try to do, and get England heads hanging, this could be a surprise result for Y Dreigiau.
Now who the hell said I couldn’t do serious football journalism, huh?
POST MATCH REPORT BY TIMMY THE INTERN
It was a game of football, wasn’t it? Twenty two men, eleven representing England, eleven representing Wales and apparently England won because they scored more goals than Wales. I’m sorry, Danny was supposed to do this but he is absolutely plastered, I’m talking legitimately wankered, and can’t stop saying “Paul Gascoigne” for some reason.
I think Bale scored a free kick, didn’t he? A good one, but where Joe Hart should have done better, maybe? Erm, and, I think then Marcus Rashford and Daniel Sturridge came on and didn’t Jamie Vardy score – he always scores. Also, Jordan Henderson did not play, which everyone except Jordan is thankful for.
So, a good performance for both teams, we hope they both make it through. I hope the pitch is okay, it was a pretty intense game there were a few people slipping, I hope that doesn’t cause problems for other games.
Look, I’m sorry. I don’t know how to report on football. I do the headlines and write poetry for crying out loud. I know nothing about these pursuits.