The opening half hour or so of England’s performance against the Russians showed them at their strongest. Even after polishing off more than a few bottles of Corona, England looked a capable side to me inside that opening period, playing with swagger and guile albeit against an average Russia side. In a predominantly English-supporting bar, the enthusiasm and expectation around me wained as England not only ran out of ideas until Dier’s free-kick but then lost their way completely as Vasili Berezutski snatched the win from within their grasp late on.
Whilst the point England picked up against Russia will have tasted like a defeat, our historic win hours earlier tasted with all the crispness of a magestic Dom Perignon.
Our entire nation is now keenly waiting to experience that taste of success again on Thursday and indeed, a victory over England would be on a far grander scale than what was achieved over the Slovakians – if Robson Kanu’s scuffed winner is destined to become stuff of folklore then a win against the English will become the talk of legend.
England in contrast will need a result to afford themselves momentum to kick-start their own campaign; their progression to the knock-out stages is far from guaranteed and even more should they remain winless heading out of Lens. The English already appear flustered it seems. The theory that their collection of high calibre Premier League stars is in any way lesser effective than Chris Coleman’s assembled group of Championship and mid-level Premier League players with a light sprinkling of world-class talent is not one that sits comfortably.
Wales, we know, will turn in a hearty wholly-committed performance as a bare minimum but the stakes will be absolutely higher on Thursday afternoon. They do possess quality throughout and it would be foolish to think England are unable to raise their game from that opening draw. That opening 30-minutes or so against the Russians demonstrated that they can be a capable side and it would be dangerous to be ignorant of that fact. That said, Wales have no reason to carry fear and as Coleman – who has been nothing short of magnificent already in this Euro campaign – has already stated, we just need to play our own game and focus on our own performance.
We will have to be at our very best and we will have show respect to England as a team as the outcome is not a foregone conclusion – if we can achieve both we will not only confirm that theory which England are so flustered by, but advance to the knock-out stages in the process.
Then, the campaign corks can definitely start popping. Allez!