Euro 2012 Qualification Preview: Wales vs. England
With club football taking a much-needed break, our attention returns to the international scene where England have once again found themselves in the midst of a media circus during the build-up to another important UEFA Euro 2012 qualifier. Set to meet for the 101st time, the Three Lions have travelled to Cardiff to take on an up-and-coming Wales side looking to secure their first points in qualifying Group G.
The England captaincy has been the trending topic thanks to Fabio Capello's recent exploits, but the decision has been made that John Terry will once again assume the role on a permanent basis starting against Wales on Saturday with Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard both out injured. Despite, not being "everyone's cup of tea", Terry is undoubtedly a talented leader and an integral part of Capello's plans for Euro 2012. "I know that Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard are not fit. I knew it was the moment, with one game which is so important, to have one captain like John Terry," explained the 64-year old manager. Time will tell whether it was the right decision or not, but the concern is the effect it may have on a squad still struggling to fully regain their confidence after a dismal summer in South Africa.
(Editor's note: read Mark Lovell's preview of Germany-Kazakhstan.)
Granted England are still unbeaten in Group G, but they had it easy against a Bulgarian side lacking discipline and leadership, while a red card at a pivotal point in the game helped them overcome a resilient Switzerland. Strangely enough it was the unassuming Montenegro, a surprise package in Group G, who really tested England and the lack of inspiration against the Eastern European side was a big cause for concern in the goalless stalemate.
Knowing a win would send them top of the group, albeit on goal difference, Don Fabio's men are certainly not expecting Wales to be easy pickings. "There'll be a little bit of spice from the first whistle, which can hopefully only be a good thing for us", stated Phil Jagielka, the player likely to partner John Terry at the back in the absence of Ferdinand, who went on to say: "I don't think we can afford to take a draw, we definitely have to go there for a win to get to the top of the table, three points is what we're going for. The Three Lions have won five of their last six away qualifying matches, goals should be expected as they look in good stead to accomplish their goals having only failed to score in two of their last 13 fixtures in all competitions.
The message from the England camp is clear, but Wales, who have had their own problems to deal with, have proven in the past that it is unwise to underestimate what they bring to this rivalry. With Gary Speed set to oversee his first competitive match as manager since taking over from John Toshack, he could be the perfect man to take charge of the talented youngsters that Wales have at their disposal.
His decision to make 20-year old Aaron Ramsey captain has been met with a mixture of derision and admiration. "Obviously some people are going to disagree with it but me and Gary Speed thought it was the right decision", began Ramsey who just a year ago was recovering from a terrible leg break. "It just shows the highs and lows of football, how quickly things can turn around." It is a big vote of confidence from a young manager to a young player, but the decision clearly shows that the new man in charge is thinking in the long-term, which is exactly what Wales need right now. "The next three and a half years are more important than the next three and a half days," stated Speed, Wales' most capped outfield player.
Wales have won two of the last four home games against England, but the loss of Gareth Bale, the brightest Welsh prospect since Ryan Giggs, is a hammer blow to the home side. Bale is the only Welsh player to find the net in qualification so far after scoring against Switzerland in the 4-1 defeat. Speed may have to rethink his plans ahead of the match, but memories of Wales' 4-1 win against England on 17th May 1980 should act as a inspiration for the young squad. Couple that with the introduction of the current Miss Wales, Courtenay Hamilton, to teach the players how to sing their national anthem and the former Sheffield United manager might have found the perfect source of motivation.
The last time these two teams squared off was during the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying when Speed himself was part of the Welsh side that lost 2-0 courtesy of goals from Frank Lampard and David Beckham. However, if football has taught us anything this season it is that nothing is guaranteed and that any team no matter how talented has to work hard for a win. Truth be told, Wales do face an uphill task against Capello's England side, but if England cannot find their feet early in the match, look for Wales to take advantage.
Prediction: Wales 2 England 3
James Thorogood is a sports reporter for The Munich Times. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org