It's time for the big one.
Big-talking Wales face off against England in this mouth-watering British derby which has been the talk of town for a while because of Gareth Bale’s constant jibes against the English.
Match timing: 6:30 PM on June 16 IST
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Group B: England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia
A rivalry dating back 137 years will reach a new level of intensity in Lens on Thursday when England and Wales meet at a major tournament for the first time. The fixture began in January 1879 and for exactly 100 years from 1884 was part of the now disbanded British Championship. As the Welsh won their opening Group B game 2-1 against Slovakia before England conceded a last-minute goal in a 1-1 draw with Russia, they go into this encounter looking down on their neighbours, which has not often been the case.
Wales have won only 14 of more than 100 previous meetings -- the last in 1984 -- and lost all four European Championship qualifying matches, in 1966-67 and 2011. Annual matches in rugby union, which the Welsh regard as their true national sport, fuel even greater passions based on complex socio-economic and cultural factors going back centuries to when the English invaded Wales and imposed their laws and language.
But those feelings will never have received greater outlet on a football pitch than in Thursday's game. Asked about the Welsh dislike of their neighbours, England midfielder Jack Wilshere was quoted in British media as saying, "We know that Wales don't like us. Do we like them? Not really!"
If that seemed harsh on his friend and fellow Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, he was right in summing up what is likely to be the nature of the match. "We know it is going to be a tough game and there are going to be tackles. We know a lot of the players -- most of them play in the Premier League. It is going to be like a derby," he said.
That will apply off the pitch too for a match being played in the second smallest of the tournament venues. England manager Roy Hodgson and captain Wayne Rooney have appealed to supporters to behave and Wales coach Chris Coleman is expected to follow suit at his pre-match news conference.
When England played their other neighbours Ireland (in 1988 and 1990) and Scotland (1996) at past European Championship or World Cup tournaments, the football was passionate but mostly lacking in quality.
Chris Coleman (Getty Images)
Neither side will mind this time if they emerge with the right result, which in England's case means a first Euro 2016 victory, whereas Wales probably could afford a draw. Wales coach Chris Coleman said the lion's share of the pressure will be on England when the neighbours meet in a Euro 2016 Group B clash on Thursday. "Whatever's going on around England, there's a lot expected of them because they've had great players down the years," Coleman told journalists on Wednesday. "There's a lot more pressure and expectancy on the England boys than on us but the expectancy and the pressure come from within our group, we expect ourselves to compete against the best." England need a positive result after conceding a late equaliser in their opener against Russia, while Wales, who beat Slovakia 2-1 on Saturday, could qualify for the round of 16 with another win.
Wales forward Gareth Bale has suggested that his side have more national pride than their English counterparts, a line which was dismissed by England manager Roy Hodgson in his pre-match news conference. Coleman also played down the comments, saying: "If one of ours has said something that one or two of the England boys don't like, it's irrelevant. When the whistle goes tomorrow, we'll see who's ready." Rivalry between the two sides was always going to create an atmosphere, Coleman suggested. "England came out of the hat and we didn't want that. We didn't want the circus that comes with England."
Roy Hodgson acts defiant
Roy Hodgson (Getty Images)
Manager Roy Hodgson has responded defiantly to Gareth Bale's comments ahead of the neighbours' Euro 2016 meeting in Lens on Thursday that England do not have the same passion as Wales.
Bale said he wasn't playing mind games when he suggested that Wales have more national pride than England before the Group B showdown, but Hodgson is satisfied with his side's attitude ahead of the battle of "brothers".
"I don't like to comment on things that other people say," the England coach told reporters. "I'm satisfied with the passion we bring to our games and certainly don't have any doubts about our passion, our desire, our commitment.
"If others have an opinion and think they can do better, that's fine," he added. "If we really took seriously what people are saying in the other team -- or reported to be saying -- and allowed it to affect our concentration, we'd be ashamed of ourselves.
"Talk is talk and action on the field is action on the field."
Bale scored the opening goal as Wales saw off Slovakia 2-1 in their first match and will be looking to heap more pressure on an England side that took the lead in their opener but let two points slip when Russia scored a 92nd-minute equaliser.
"Many people in England and Great Britain have been looking forward to this, we certainly are," Hodgson said. "It's a game between brothers if you like, it adds spice to it, adds interest.
"I only welcome that, it heightens the atmosphere rather than lessens it, but whoever wins will have to do so over the 90 minutes and by scoring more than the opposition."