Germany were flattered by their 2-0 scoreline against the Ukraine, Spain huffed and puffed against a weak Czech Republic side and only broke through in the last five minutes, while France were anything but impressive in their 2-1 win over Romania on Friday night.
I loved watching Italy on Monday, it was so refreshing to see that defensive unit do exactly what they do best - do everything they possibly can to prevent the other team scoring. It’s an art that has all but died out in the Premier League but it could take the Italian national side a long way in this tournament. In terms of defensive quality, they already look head and shoulders above most over teams in this tournament.
But back to England, who controlled most of the game against Russia, and a similar level of performance against Wales on Thursday should see Roy Hodgson’s side bag three points.
I keep hearing people saying that Wales will be massively up for this game, but I can’t think of a single reason why England won’t be equally motivated, especially armed with the knowledge that a win will take them top of the group.
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I’ll be very surprised if England don’t name an unchanged starting 11 and Wales will see no reason to play any differently to the one which earned them three points against Slovakia. Their full-backs are often the ‘out ball’ for Wales, they tend to push forward at every opportunity, and, if Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana tuck in to help out the midfield, our full backs could find themselves penned back if we don’t impose ourselves on the game. England won’t make any special plans for Bale, apart from trying to cut off the supply into him.
A few people have said they thought Harry Kane looked tired against Russia, but things didn’t really go his way in truth and he had to do a lot of donkey work for little reward. He has set such high standards this season that the moment he fails to hit those heights people jump on him, but he’ll be up for this game as much as the other England players and I can see him causing the Wales defence a lot of problems.
One point I will make about Kane is that he should NOT be taking England’s corners! He is one of the best finishers in world football and I want him in the box pouncing when a chance arises, not stuck out in the corner.
England are a better side than Wales and, providing we are on our game, I expect us to win. Kane can bounce back from last weekend and remind us why he’s so highly rated – the Spurs striker can score in an England win, which is best odds 21/10.
Northern Ireland set their stall out for a draw in their opening game against Poland and I expect them to adopt the same approach against Ukraine, who were more than a touch unlucky not to come away with something against Germany. The problem is, Michael O’Neill doesn’t appear to have a plan B when the opposition score, which spells trouble. There haven’t really been any high-scoring games in this tournament yet, but an early Ukraine goal could open the floodgates on Thursday evening, and for that reason I fancy them at -2 on the Asian Handicap (best odds 19/5).