Early Doors

England should not worry about Bale

Early Doors

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Wales rock up at Wembley this evening to face England in their Euro 2012 Group G qualifier and, in all honesty, it doesn't look good for them.

Wales have not beaten England since 1984, back in the days of the Home Nations Cup. Then again, they had not beaten anyone at all for nine matches, stretching back to a 5-1 win over Luxembourg 13 months ago, before they did England a solid by beating Montenegro 2-1 on Saturday. And everyone beats Luxembourg.   

Still, England have not exactly made England a fortress since returning from their dismal showing in South Africa last year, winning none of their last four home matches against Montenegro, France, Ghana and Switzerland.

For the second time this year, Wales will face their neighbours while not at full strength.

When England visited the Millennium Stadium in March, Gary Speed was without Gareth Bale for his second match in charge. Tonight at Wembley he will have the PFA Player of the Year in his ranks, but no Craig Bellamy or David Vaughan who are both suspended.

England boss Fabio Capello has thrown out the lovingly compiled dossier on the threat Hal Robson-Kanu and Steve Morison may pose, instead focusing purely on Bale as the man to stop.

"Bale always makes a difference," Capello said. "He is a really, really, important player for Wales.

"We need to find a system to stop him and stop people passing to him."

One proven way of nullifying Bale which Capello did not countenance was to give Phil Neville a first call-up in four years. The Everton skipper did a number on Bale last October in the match following the winger's hat-trick at Internazionale, and he kept the Welshman in shackles again as Everton won the return fixture at Goodison Park.

In the absence of P-Nev, Capello may well turn to James Milner in place of Theo Walcott in order to give right-back Chris Smalling more support.

Either way, this is a nation sitting between Haiti and Grenada in the FIFA world rankings. England should not be setting themselves up to halt one player, even one of such quality. Following on from Friday's convincing 3-0 win in Bulgaria, this is a good opportunity for England to continue their morale-boosting run following an indifferent last 18 months or so.

Victory tonight would require only a point against Montenegro in Podgorica next month to secure England's place at the finals in Poland and Ukraine next year. For Wales, this is the last of three competitive games for Speed to lay the groundwork for the team he hopes to lead through a successful World Cup 2014 qualification campaign.

If England can put together a run of good results on the pitch then it would reflect the more relaxed mood that seems to be pervading the camp off it these days.

Capello is perhaps less affected by the pressure of the job now as - come what may - he is entering his final year in it. He appears to have learned lessons from last summer's World Cup campaign, most notably keeping his players locked up inside their Rustenburg training complex for the vast majority of their stay.

He may retain a great deal of the disciplinarian persona that was a big reason for him getting the England job after Steve McClaren's chumminess led to missing out on Euro 2008, but the Italian believes that his image has softened a little in the eyes of his players in the three years many of them have spent together.

"They understand me better. Now they understand I am not an ogre," he said. "I am always focused in training. After, I am relaxed and they can do anything."

That 'anything', however, apparently does not extend to imbibing a few tins, and Capello revealed he has had words with striker Andy Carroll over his supposed boozing.

Since becoming a £35 million player in January, Carroll has been pictured partying in Barbados, revelling at Glastonbury and enjoying a cerveza al fresco in Madrid with a handful of other players.

"I think if he wants to be a good player, a good sportsman, he needs to drink less," Capello said of Carroll.

"It's a private message. I spoke with him. It's a private discussion between two people but he understands a lot."

Carroll clearly understands the nature of a private discussion better than his manager.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I'm delighted that Craig is back - I didn't want him to leave in the first place. That pace and the fiery character he's got will help us in our push for success this season. When he was here before he was popular and one of the hardest working in training. He was always in the gym getting himself in good shape. What people need to realise is that Craig is a top professional. He works really hard day in, day out." - Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is delighted to have Craig Bellamy back at the club. It was just over a year ago that Stevie G claimed another new arrival at Anfield, Joe Cole, was better than Lionel Messi.

FOREIGN VIEW: "Steed has read with concern the recent stories currently circulating about him and his family. Steed does not have a son and his immediate family are all in good health. Steed does not know the origin of these stories but would like to stress that they are without merit. He trusts that they will now cease immediately." - A statement released via Steed Malbranque's solicitors refutes reports in France that the St Etienne midfielder has retired from football to care for his cancer-stricken son, who doesn't exist.

COMING UP: There is a whole glut of live action this evening. This evening sees live coverage of England v Wales (19:45), Scotland v Lithuania (20:00), Russia v Republic of Ireland (16:00) and Estonia v Northern Ireland (19:30) plus live scoring of all the other Euro 2012 qualifiers.

In other sports - because there are other sports - we will bring you coverage of the Shanghai Masters snooker, the latest stage of the Vuelta a Espana, England v India in the second ODI and the latest day's play from the US Open.

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