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England v Wales: Hodgson delays team as Sturridge impresses

16 June

Roy Hodgson has kept the England squad sweating over his selections for the crucial showdown with Wales today.

He is expected to name an unchanged team to the one that drew 1-1 with Russia on Saturday, but "left players guessing over their places by letting them go to bed on Wednesday night without confirming his starting XI", says the Daily Telegraph.

"Hodgson and his staff have considered the merits of both Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy over the past few days and have trained in both a 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 diamond formation," it adds.

Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling are considered the two players most at risk after they came in for criticism for their displays against Russia.

"Striker Daniel Sturridge has made a strong impression in training," says The Times.

Meanwhile, Hodgson has insisted the squad have not been affected by comments from the Welsh camp in the run-up to the match.

"If we took it seriously and allowed it to affect our concentration, we’d be very ashamed," he said.

Most of the attacks have come from Real Madrid star Gareth Bale, who said Wales had more pride and passion than their national rivals, and have prompted a couple of reactions from England. 

"The theory – or at least the suspicion – is that it is deliberate and Hodgson, in turn, has recommended his players avoid the mud-slinging," says Daniel Taylor of The Guardian.

"Bale’s interviews are notable usually for the speed at which they descend into blandness," he adds. "The world’s most expensive footballer has seemed delighted, triumphant even, to have drawn a response and Hodgson could be forgiven for suspecting it has been a strategic attempt to make the occasion even spikier than might normally be expected."

But it is what happens on the pitch that matters, says Paul Hayward of the Telegraph, and that is where Bale can make a real difference.

"Wales have won the jaw-jaw but history remains an obstacle," he says.

The Dragons have not beaten England since 1984, but Bale "brings a talismanic, super-hero element" and a level of talent that "can alter the power balance between nations".

England vs Wales: How Rooney and Bale will dominate the game

16 June

Wayne Rooney and Gareth Bale are being tipped to decide the showdown between England and Wales at Euro 2016 tomorrow, with the Dragons adapting their game to counter the threat of the England captain in his new midfield role and the Three Lions aware that their weaknesses play to Bale's strengths.

Wales took note of Rooney's influence as a playmaker in England's game against Russia and will defend deeper as a result, says the London Evening Standard.

"Rooney impressed in the role... and Aaron Ramsey has revealed Wales will try to stifle the England captain tomorrow," it says.

The Arsenal and Wales midfielder told the paper: "We will have to look out for him. Hopefully we can keep him quiet.

"It is not an easy position for him to play [in midfield], but a player of his quality probably finds it easier to slot into there. We defend as a team, we can drop deep and be tough to break down so hopefully that works in our favour."

If Wales are confident that a tweak to their tactics will do the trick, England manager Roy Hodgson has a bigger problem when it comes to shackling Real Madrid star Bale.

"Great individual players don't always make a great team but Wales have worked out exactly how to get the most out of the exceptional talent that is Gareth Bale and he poses a real threat to England's chances of qualification," says JJ Bull in the Daily Telegraph.

England's first problem is crosses into the box. They are poor at defending them and "Bale is ridiculously good in the air", which means Wales can "exploit England's frailties".

Worse still, Bale will likely start on the right of the attack, putting him up against England's diminutive full-back Danny Rose.

Rose and Kyle Walker frequently joined England's attacks against Russia's full-backs. "If this happens against Wales - which it almost certainly will - Gareth Bale will be sitting somewhere near the space Rose is meant to defend waiting to counter," says Bull. If he gets the ball and begins running with it, "there's no way anyone, let alone Gary Cahill, is catching him once in full flight".

Jermaine Jenas of the BBC agrees and says for that reason, Bale will play through the middle rather than the flanks. "If he can get at Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling he can do some damage," he says.

What's more, Bale has the ability to score from distance, continues Bull, and his very presence on the pitch will pre-occupy England creating space for his team-mates.

Gareth Bale and Spurs factor could decide England vs Wales

14 June

England's crunch Euro 2016 showdown with Wales has been billed as a clash between Tottenham Hotspur old and new, with a sprinkling of Arsenal thrown in.

Former Spurs star Gareth Bale will take centre stage in the Lens stadium, but he will be up against an England team built around players from his old club.

"It wasn't that long ago that Kyle Walker, Danny Rose and Harry Kane would have loved nothing more than to see Bale giving opposition defenders the runaround," says the London Evening Standard. "However, in two days' time, the Wales star poses a massive threat to their – and England's – participation in the latter stages of Euro 2016."

The three Spurs players watched Bale blossom into one of the best players in the world at White Hart Lane, says the paper, and Kane has admitted the Welshman "was someone I looked up to as I came through Tottenham's academy".

In addition to Bale's former team-mate, Spurs stars Eric Dier and Dele Alli were also on the field during England's opener against Russia on Saturday.

Dier scored and Alli was particularly impressive. However, Bale was just as influential as he scored for the Welsh against Slovakia, while the final player with Spurs connections – Welsh defender Ben Davies – made a sensational goal-line clearance to deny Marek Hamsik.

However, Arsenal star Jack Wilshere, who has made his feeling about Spurs clear in the past, appeared anxious to talk up the rivalry between the two teams, after Bale said the Welsh showed more patriotism than England.

"We know that Wales don't like us," said Wilshere. "Do we like them? Not really.

"They're not going to show more passion than us, especially in this squad. I've never questioned the passion of one of my team-mates."

There was a smile on his face when he spoke, reports The Times. "Huge respect exists in the England dressing room for Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and company, who are top of group B, but [Wilshere] is clearly relishing the prospect of the great British duel."

Meanwhile, The Independent reports that Wales manager Chris Coleman has defended Bale over his "pride and passion" remarks, which were described as "disrespectful" by England manager Roy Hodgson.

"I think Gareth was simply saying that because we are a small nation, a tight nation, probably little things mean more to us than the bigger nations... Gareth would not have meant that in a disrespectful way," he said.

Euro 2016: Bring on England, say 'disrespectful' Wales

13 June

England's Euro 2016 showdown with Wales has been given extra spice by the opening results for both teams.

The Dragons won their opening encounter in the competition, beating Slovakia 2-1, while the Three Lions conceded an injury-time equaliser to Russia. 

Those results put Wales in control of Group B and Crystal Palace midfielder Jonny Williams says the team would gladly take a draw from Thursday's match.

"If we can stop them from winning, with us already having three points on the board, then that would be a good result," he told the BBC.

Wales were boarding their plane to fly back to their base in Dinard after their win over Slovakia when they heard about Russia's late equaliser.

"Bring on England became a louder cry after this victory and they enjoyed a second celebration when they heard that Roy Hodgson's side had dropped points," says Gary Jacob of The Times.

"The Wales plane was just about to take off at Bordeaux airport when Russia headed an equaliser against England in stoppage time. A cheer erupted on board and mobile phones were asked to be turned off just as the final whistle was blown."

Hodgson's men will be the side under pressure at Lens and "playing catch-up", says The Guardian. "A Wales victory in Lens on Thursday would see Chris Coleman's side through and leave England fretting over their involvement at the finals."

However, Saturday's goal-scorer Eric Dier says the team are "looking forward" to the match, which he predicted would be more like a Premier League clash than a more measured international.

"It's a massive game for them and for us, for many different reasons," he said. "The underdogs are always up for it, always wanting to prove a point and that makes it even harder for the favourites. If we are the favourites we need to be even more well-prepared and more ready for it."

England boss Hodgson should have no problem getting his team ready for the match, though. He was "clearly annoyed" by comments from Wales winger Gareth Bale, who claimed England "big themselves up before they've done anything", reports the Daily Telegraph.

Bale also described the Three Lions as the "enemy" and questioned the patriotism of some players. 

But Hodgson was having none of it. "They can have those opinions," he said. "I don't have any doubts personally about our patriotism and our desire and that's the most important thing.

"If he believes that's the case, then he's welcome to that opinion... But I'm afraid it's disrespectful." 

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