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Euro 2016: England vs Wales - An age old rivalry

Why and how has the rivalry between the neighbouring countries shaped across centuries.

England vs Wales
England and Wales will meet for the first time in a major international tournament

The 137-year-old rivalry is set to reach a new level of intensity in Lens as England take on Wales on Thursday for their second group match of the UEFA Euro 2016, and their first ever encounter in a major tournament.

Although the rivalry is not as fierce as the two neighbouring countries share in rugby, pride is always at stake when they meet. Moreover, the intensity will be compounded on Thursday as a defeat for England would see them hanging on the brink of a group-stage elimination.

We take a look at the basis of this rivalry and how has it evolved throughout the years.

History

The rivalry’s roots go beyond the football field and as early as the 11th century, when King William I led the first English invasion of Wales. Thus began a series of conflicts across the borders as the Welsh revolted and drove the English back to their lands.

In the 13th century, Wales essentially became an English colony as King Edward I completed the conquest. Throughout the years, England imposed their language, culture and legal system over the Welsh, giving rise to the sentiments of mistrust and hatred. 

Political friction has always been evident since, threatening to even break all ties following Margaret Thatcher’s famous war on striking Welsh coal miners in the 1980s. Today, Wales answers to the British government in London, although it was given a degree of political autonomy after the creation of the Welsh Assembly in 1999.

The Welsh resentment is encapsulated in Welsh rugby player Phil Bennet’s legendary speech to his fellow team-mates before a rugby match against England in 1977, “Look what these b****rds have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and live in them for a fortnight every year.

“What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you are playing this afternoon. The English.”  

Head to Head 

While the fixture is more heated when it comes to rugby, largely because of the level playing field, the football pitch has been dominated completely by the English. England may see the Germans or the Argentines as their biggest footballing rivals but Welsh only have eyes on their neighbours, always bloodthirsty when given a chance to assert themselves over the English. 

The fixture began in January 1879 and for exactly 100 years from 1884, was part of the now disbanded British Championship. In the previous 101 meetings between the teams, England have lost only on 14 occasions and have won the game with scorelines as formidable as a 9-1 victory back in 1896 and a more recent 5-1 rampage in 1966.

mark hughes
Wales last won the fixture in 1984 when Mark Hughes scored the only goal of the game

Between 1946 and 1976, they tasted defeat just once in 33 encounters. This has made Wales’ victories even more memorable, though, the most notable one being a 4-1 triumph in the 1980 edition of the British Championship against an England side who had thrashed world champions Argentina 3-1 just four days before. 

Wales last won the fixture in 1984 when Mark Hughes scored the only goal of the game. The sides have met only four times this century – qualifiers for 2006 World Cup and Euro 2012 – and England have won all four times without conceding a single goal.

Present Scenario

Though history clearly favours the English, England can hardly take solace in the past head to head records considering the recent forms that the two teams have been in. Wales are flying high with their 2-1 win over Slovakia in the opening match of Euro 2016, whereas England again started a major tournament on the back-foot after dropping points in the 1-1 draw against Russia.

The build-up to the match on Thursday has been somewhat ill-tempered and brought back the derby like aura surrounding the match as Wales’ Gareth Bale and England’s Jack Wilshere have been on the forefront of a war of words.

gareth bale
Bale has already started the war of words

Bale commented that Wales have more passion and pride as compared to their neighbours and aimed a jab towards the English, saying, “They big themselves up before they've done anything.” England manager Roy Hodgson called Bale “disrespectful” following his comments and Wilshere further fueled the fire, conceding that the hateful sentiments were “mutual”.

Wales are riding on their best form in years, with the attack spearheaded by Real Madrid sensation Bale, who is supported by Liverpool’s Joe Allen and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey.

Though England have plenty of firepower with the likes of Wayner Rooney, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana in their ranks, there’s a sense of deja vu as time and again they have failed to meet expectations despite having world-class players in the squad.

With England already sitting two points behind Wales after one game, Hodgson's side cannot afford to slip further behind in the race to qualify for the last 16. The match is sure to be a treat and one can expect tackles and cards flying all over the pitch.

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