Wales v England preview: Kane to break home nations rivals’ hearts in tense World Cup decider

The Tottenham star will find his shooting boots in tonight’s Battle of the Brits, kick-off 7pm, putting the Three Lions through to the knockouts as Group B leaders — and Wales on a flight back to Cardiff, writes Ruby Malone.

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England’s optimistic start to the 2022 World Cup took a knock on Friday, with a drab performance and a nervy 0-0 draw with the USA. The Three Lions looked bright and ready to take the tournament by storm in their opening game against Iran, netting six goals and sparking premature renditions of “It’s coming home” across the country. However, their display against the USA was lacklustre and served as a reality check, with the final whistle sending boos through the travelling England fans. Gareth Southgate and his men will certainly be looking to redeem themselves in tonight’s home nations clash with Wales at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium.

The Three Lions had hoped to carry on their winning ways and beat the USA to secure their place in the knockout stages with one match still to play, but they left without any guarantee. Despite the frustration around their performance however, they remain in a strong position. It’s simple, secure a win and they top the group. Only a defeat to the Welsh by four goals or more would prevent them progressing to the knockout stages.

It’s fair to say that Wales have had a disappointing start to their first World Cup campaign since 1958. They kicked it off with a poor first half against the USA and just managed to scrape a 1-1 draw, thanks to an 82nd-minute penalty from Gareth Bale. This was followed up with a devastating, yet deserved, 2-0 defeat to Iran on Friday, whose two stoppage-time goals left the Welsh bottom of Group B, with one solitary point and a goal difference of minus two.

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The gaps in the Dragons’ midfield are glaringly obvious and they have lacked both creativity and coherence. Their all-time goal scorer, Bale, overtook Chris Gunter as the nation’s most-capped footballer on Friday, however he has yet to make an impact in this World Cup. Although he netted the equalising penalty against the USA, the striker had a quiet game overall and failed to have any effect against Iran. The absence of their star’s attacking prowess will be a serious concern for the Welsh as they face an uphill battle going into their final group game. They must rely on a draw between the USA and Iran, as well as their first victory over England in 34 years, to have any hope of prolonging their World Cup campaign.

The hot topic since Friday has been Phil Foden and his lack of game time (he has only played 19 minutes, all of which came in the latter stages against Iran). Southgate instead chose to turn to the 22-year-old’s Manchester City team-mate, Jack Grealish, as a substitute against the USA – despite the attacking midfielder netting a solitary goal for the Sky Blues so far this season following on from an underwhelming return of three league goals and three assists last term. Foden may be yet to replicate his outstanding Manchester City performances in an England shirt, but this has done little to quench the questions surrounding Southgate’s in-game changes. The manager defended his choice in his post-match conference, but with the intense scrutiny and ex-England right-back, Gary Neville, dubbing Foden “the best player in our country by a mile”, it’s hard to conceive how the two-time PFA Young Player of the Year could be left out of the starting line-up.

Frustration and emotions aside, England are still very much in control in Group B and are favourites to make it through to the knockout stages. They will, however, need to improve on their USA performance if they’re to beat the Welsh and secure the top spot. Wales will come out fighting for their life, buoyed on by their fans who will desperate to avoid being knocked out by their home nations rivals. One thing’s for sure, football fans will be treated to a dramatic final round of games for Group B tonight.

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Injury list

Gareth Southgate confirmed in his pre-match press conference that Ben White will be missing from the squad due to illness.
After the USA match, the manager did admit that Harry Kane had felt some discomfort in his foot but is adamant that the captain is fit to play.

Kyle Walker could make a return to the starting line-up as he continues to recover from his groin injury. James Maddison returned to full training on Saturday and could also make a first appearance, after being ruled out by the knee injury he sustained on the final day of the Premier League.

Wales will be without first-choice goalkeeper, Wayne Hennessey, who is serving a ban after picking up a straight red against Iran.
Joe Allen could be fit to start against England, having made his return from injury as a substitute in the 2-0 defeat.

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Dangerman: Harry Kane

Harry Kane is yet to get on the scoreboard at this World Cup, but this will no doubt only motivate the frontman to get off the mark and emulate his 2018 World Cup Golden Boot performance. He is three goals off surpassing Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 goals for England, an accomplishment he will undeniably be looking to secure in Qatar. The Spurs striker has been in fine goalscoring form in the Premier League this season, netting 12 goals in 15 games, and only trails the seemingly unstoppable Erling Haaland on 18. He didn’t hit the back of the net in Euro 2020 until the 86th minute of their last-16 game against Germany and yet pushed on to score crucial quarter-final and semi-final goals, proving the England captain’s goalscoring prowess can never be ruled out.

Managers speak:

England manager Gareth Southgate said: “We know [Wales] seem to have additional motivation to play against England with what they’re saying. It’s like any two countries whose borders are next to each other. It’s a great sporting rivalry. It’s no more than that. It’s going to be a fantastic atmosphere and we are really looking forward to the game. We have to match the spirit of Wales but I’d be disappointed if we didn’t do that [anyway].”

Wales boss Rob Page said: “With tournament football you’ve got an opportunity to put it right quickly, so it’s a good job we’ve got a game tomorrow. It’s tough times at the minute but we’ll get on with it – they’re ready for it. We’re all hurting because we know we’re frustrated that we haven’t given a good account of ourselves and we want to put that right.”

Possible starting line-ups

Prediction: England 2 Wales 0

The stage is set for an intense and apprehensive Battle of the Brits. Wanting to avoid humiliation at the hands of their noisy neighbours, the Welsh will come out ready for the challenge. They could cause England’s defence some problems, with striker Kieffer Moore a constant aerial threat. However, the three Lions have won the last six meetings between these two home nations and will want to make a point after their dreary performance against the USA. Finishing the group stages on a high will feel like an important statement, whilst for Wales, an uphill battle without stars Bale and Aaron Ramsey firing just looks too steep.

Follow Ruby on Twitter @RubyGMalone

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