The game most of Britain has been looking forward to since the draw was made last December, has finally arrived with England meeting Wales in Lens.
Wales got their maiden European Championship campaign off to a flier with a 2-1 victory over Slovakia on Saturday, while England, though atracting plaudits for the manner of their performancer, were held to a 1-1 draw by Russia.
Looking at those results in the light of Slovakia’s 2-1 victory over Russia on Wednesday, the form book would seem to favour Wales. To offset that, Wales have failed to beat England in seven of their last eight attempts (W1, D1, L6); their most recent win against their neighbours came back in May 1984, a 1-0 victory in Wrexham.
Hodgson acknowledged the unique nature of today’s fixture: a local derby played within the context of a major continental competition.
“The derby atmosphere is great,” he said. “Many people in England and Great Britain – perhaps even around the world – are looking forward to this game; the fact it is a game against brothers, if you like, adds spice, it adds interest and that is something I can only welcome. If anything it heightens the occasion rather than lessens it.
Hodgson believes that having secured an opening day win (against Slovakia), the pressure is now off Wales.
“We don’t expect changes in their style or personnel, or what they do when they do and don’t have the ball. We won’t be able to spring any surprises either. They know our players. Talk is talk and action on the field is action on the field. They are under less pressure to win the game because normally when you have won a game and three qualify, you are basically qualified the moment you win.”
Meanwhile, his Welsh counterpart, Chris Coleman, acknowledged that the Slovakia result provded some insurance, in the event of a Wales defeat today.
“We’re ready. It’s all about us taking care of our own business,” he said. “If we’re going to get through we’re going to get through of our own accord. It’s a big test and a big challenge for us. If we win we’re there, but if we don’t we have another chance. We’ve got a chance to do something a bit special. We can be confident, it’s not the time for us to think we’re something that we’re not.
He, like Hodgson, accepted that the greater pressure rested on the shoulders of the England players.
“We’ve got to care of ourselves and not worry about the opposition, whoever they are. I’m more concerned with my lot than England. We can only concentrate on ourselves. I’m not disrespecting England by saying it’s just another game. We have to make sure the occasion doesn’t get the better of us, I will be making sure my players remain calm and focused. There’s a lot more pressure and expectancy on England, but our pressure comes from within the group.”
There are no injury concerns for Roy Hodgson as the full squad trained on Wednesday ahead of the match.
He is expected to select the same starting XI and 4-3-3 formation that drew against Russia.
Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey is still troubled by the back spasm that caused him to miss the opening win over Slovakia. If fit, though, he will play. Slovakia goalscorer Hal Robson-Kanu and the fit-again Joe Ledley are pushing for starts.
England: Hart; Walker, Smalling, Cahill, Rose; Alli, Dier, Rooney; Lallana, Kane, Sterling.
Wales: Hennessey/Ward; Gunter, Chester, Williams, Davies, Taylor; Allen, Ledley; Ramsey, Bale; Robson-Kanu.