…but don’t stop reading.
We’ve been inundated all week with articles suggesting that Wales are better than they appear, why Welsh supporters should have reasons to keep the faith in their national side and why England should be quaking in their togs at the thought of playing their lowly neighbours on the other side of Offa’s dyke.
I don’t think I’d be erring on the side of caution to suggest that most of the UK and most neutrals would expect England to win in Cardiff. So why are Wales being hinted at as prospects? I’ve lived in both countries, I’ve sh*t on the wrong side of the bridge and I know full well that the national media do go rather fanatic when it comes to Capello’s men. I think the reason is that playing England down will make them look heaps better when the ‘inevitable’ result comes through.
On paper, England’s squad is strong and packed with household names including England’s most expensive man, Andy Carroll, a rapidly improving and therefore terrifying Wayne Rooney and the newly reinstated captain John Terry.
Wales, on the other hand, have nine internationals in the squad currently plying their trade in the Barclays Premier League, (not including Sam Vokes, who’s currently on loan at Norwich City) one in the Scottish Premier League and the rest in the Championship.
Usually I would bemoan that sort of statistic and write off Wales as a team lacking the perceived quality to compete with an all-star England team. They’ve won just three out of their last ten games (against Liechtenstein, Scotland and Luxembourg) and taken on a manager who’s coaching background to date spans just under 5 months with Sheffield United and that includes a one match touchline ban with a £2000 fine for ‘unsupportive behaviour’ against Watford.
Deep beneath the surface though, far below the seams of coal, deeper still than the room where Vinnie Jones is kept under lock and key and fed on the souls of children, is a fountain of optimism bubbling away. Wales have two teams vying for automatic promotion to the Premiership while Steve Morison and Andy King have scored 26 goals between them in the competition for their respective clubs, Millwall and Leicester. Gareth Bale, of course, is awesome but crocked. Sad face. Aaron Ramsey was crocked, but is now better and captaining his country for the first time at the ripe old age of 20.
England, meanwhile, are going through a period of transition. Fabio is starting to chop and change, mix old with new and, if rumours are to be believed, is about to finally give Frank Lampard the kick up the arse the Chelsea star has dearly needed in an attempt to get him to perform for his country. Jack Wilshere is the proposed deputy having impressed Capello against Denmark in February, despite being used in a more defensive role than he’s used to under Wenger.
The team are also, apparently, a nation divided. John Terry’s reinstatement to captain has set tongues wagging and few will have forgotten the reason he got demoted in the first place, the dirty sod. They also lack Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand for the game, two natural born leaders who would help calm the ship in the fiery cauldron that is the Millenium Stadium.
I’m Welsh (duh) and as I write this, I’m starting to believe my own hype. ‘Maybe Wales have an opportunity’, says a small voice. ‘Maybe, now is the time?’ The problem is, there’s another voice, a colder one, that says ‘Wales have always had a couple of great players surrounded by also-rans, why should now be any different?’
So here’s my conundrum, hundreds of writers have done a far better job than I of boosting Wales credentials in an attempt to provoke patriotic passion amongst England fans, but how can I justify any sort of belief that Wales can put one over on the old enemy when they can’t put away Kazakhstan who are 16 places lower in the Fifa rankings?
That said, I love a good underdog story and I’ve taken heart from Ireland beating England in the cricket and Italy beating France in the rugby. One more big upset ought to do it…