Bale taunt stirs fear in England
Published 16/06/2016 | 02:30
England arrived at Euro 2016 promising to play front-foot, fearless football and no one could question the intent they displayed in the eventually frustrating draw against Russia.
It was not a bad performance but it was a bad result and one made potentially worse by the defeat Slovakia inflicted on the Russians in Group B yesterday, part of which was witnessed by Roy Hodgson, who expressed his surprise at the result, and the England players.
The game was shown live on the big screens at Stade Bollaert-Delelis as the squad strolled around the pitch to familiarise themselves with what is, aptly enough, regarded as the most 'British' of the venues for these finals.
What is more questionable is the mood that England have taken with them into a match which they cannot afford to lose and which feels as if they have to win.
In PR terms Wales have led them a merry dance. Gareth Bale's jibes, starting with his accusation of a lack of "passion" on the eve of the opening round of games, have set the agenda, while England have been circumspect and more worried about provoking headlines than grabbing them. It is a familiar infection.
Bale scored on the pitch and off it and, while the latter does not really matter if results are achieved, there is a sense that it contributes to the atmosphere and approach.
Witness how Italy, for example, went for the second goal against Belgium. England did not do that against Russia because, once again, they feared the worst.
Meanwhile, Welsh chests are swelling; there is even a sense of inevitability that Bale, who has taken on almost bogeyman status, will score.
"I think I'll put a stop to discussing questions about what Gareth may or not have said," Hodgson said. "You've had our answers. I don't want to keep batting away questions. We don't kick people, he can rest assured."
That was in response to the latest Bale comment, that he does not mind a bit of the physical stuff, but England's answers were, to say the least, milky.
No one is expecting Hodgson to transform himself into Jose Mourinho, to indulge in trash-talk, or even to be a charismatic Jurgen Klopp, but it would be interesting to see an England manager with the public confidence to call it on in his own forthright way. It does filter down to the team.
Talk is cheap. But it can also set the tone and the Welsh approach, with sports psychologist Ian Mitchell standing at the back of the room two hours later when Wales manager Chris Coleman and defender Neil Taylor spoke at their press conference, is a deliberate one.
Hodgson appears set to go with an unchanged team, which means a reprieve for Raheem Sterling and the 4-3-3 system.