Wales come a distant second in “Battle of Britain”.


It’s because of the feeling that your team were within touching distance of getting a draw only to have it snatched away from you so late in proceedings that losing to a goal in added time is so much harder to take than going down to one scored in, say, the sixty fifth minute.

Whenever it happens to City, you can almost guarantee that someone on some messageboard somewhere will be saying that there is a deep, fundamental, flaw in our training, tactical, managerial etc. etc approach which makes us particularly susceptible to such things happening.

However, while it’s true that we were the victims more than the instigators when it came to very late match deciding goals last season, my suspicion is that City are just like most others teams in this regard – we may concede more of them than some, but there are many who it happens to more.

Scanning my memory banks, it seems to me that Wales may find themselves quite near the top of any table which has the side which concedes the least late winners at the top and the one who lets in the most at the bottom – my impression is that our national team have been good at holding out for a draw down the years.

Therefore, it’s all the more disappointing I suppose that when they fall victims to such a goal, it so happens to be in a major tournament against the team that most of us would regard as our biggest rivals on the international front.

And yet, although it’s hard to get “what might have been” type feelings out of my mind, the truth is that the 2-1 defeat to England in Lens yesterday does not feel as devastating as I would have expected it to if you had asked beforehand how a late, late winning goal for our opponents would effect me.

Presumably, part of the explanation for this is that yesterday’s match did not carry that air of finality which tells you there is no coming back from such a setback? Chris Coleman said more than once in the build up to the game that it was just one of three which would decide whether we would make it into the next stage of the competition and he was right. For now, I’m looking forward to Russia on Monday rather than back to England on Thursday, but whether I can be as philosophical about Sturridge’s goal if our final group game goes against us must be open to doubt.

That said, even though it was England, if I’m being totally honest there is a part of me which has to acknowledge that, in truth, justice was done in the end yesterday – the far better of the two sides won the game.

Two factors dominated the build up to the first ever Wales v England meeting in the Finals of an international competition. I’ll deal briefly with the threat of more of the sort of violence seen in Marseilles between England and Russia supporters and a contingent of locals during the first round of matches later on, but I want to talk now about the phoney war regarding which one of the two sides was the most passionate.

Gareth Bale celebrates after his free kick gives Wales the lead. Yes, just as on Saturday, the goalkeeper should have done better but this shouldn't be allowed to detract from the technique shown by Bale in getting the ball to move as much as it did.*

Gareth Bale celebrates after his free kick gives Wales the lead. Yes, just as on Saturday, the goalkeeper should have done better but this shouldn’t be allowed to detract from the technique shown by Bale in getting the ball to move as much as it did.*

Yesterday morning I read a few opinion pieces in the media which claimed that Wales had “won” the pre match battle hands down. Now, I know “mind games” are an accepted part of modern day sport and I can understand why some place so much emphasis on them, but, perhaps due to my age and the nature of the times I grew up in, I’ve always thought they came second by miles to what happens on the pitch, track, court etc.

More than that though, accusing your opponents of not being as passionate as you are never struck me a particularly clever fight to pick in the first place, because I found it hard to work out how Wales could win it.

Whether things developed as they did as a result of a deliberate policy in the Wales camp or whether it all just snowballed after some unusually frank remarks from a modern day footballer is a matter for conjecture. However, Gareth Bale has had ten years experience of dealing with the football media and it did strike me as odd that he would come out with what were, by some distance, the most controversial comments he’s made in that decade now.

In the event, just like their English counterparts. the Welsh players and supporters at the ground ensured the occasion was dripping with passion, but, as far as the team went, it seemed to me that they brought their hwyl out on to the pitch with them, but, to a large degree, left their footballing ability back in the dressing room.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that if Wales had gone out to take England on in a game of pure football, they would have. almost certainly, lost, but we needed to respect possession a lot more than we did – unfortunately, although England had one or two who wilted on the day when it came to playing to their potential, Wales had more.

During the first half, which ended with us in the lead courtesy of another unlikely free kick from Gareth Bale, Wales were able to keep England at arm’s length to a large degree, but the writing had been very clearly on the wall for much of the time as they were, almost completely, unable to play what I call joined up football.

With Wayne Hennessey back in goal, Joe Ledley in central midfield and Hal Robson-Kanu leading the line, I think it’s fair to say that Chris Coleman was able to field what he would regard as his first choice starting eleven. In the past, this team, and variations of it, have been able to pass the ball accurately and progressively as they gradually work the ball up the field (a good example of this being the winning goal against Slovakia), but, for some reason, they couldn’t do it yesterday.

The strange thing was that when they got into the game, the three players charged with mostly attacking functions (Bale, Robson-Kanu and Aaron Ramsey) all looked like they were able to cause problems for the England defence, but it was always on an individual basis – there was little or no link up play between them.

Worse than that though, there appeared to be an almost complete breakdown between those three and the rest of the team – whether it was via longer or shorter passes being attempted, it made no difference, the link between the three attackers and the other seven outfield players was virtually non existent.

Against Slovakia, wing back Chis Gunter and Neil Taylor were able to provide support for the attacking trio as we made good use of diagonal passes played into spaces for them to exploit, but that never happened yesterday – indeed, England’s two full backs, ostensibly, part of a normal, flat, back four, made for far more effective wing backs than our pair who were too preoccupied with defending.

I should say here that credit needs to be given to our opponents for the part they played in making it so hard for Wales to find any rhythm to their passing. England surprised me with their very effective pressing of the ball and I’d say that this was the most impressive aspect of a performance that was far too good for Wales on the day, but still some way short of what I would term a complete display.

It was tough for Wales to impose themselves in the battle for possession then, but I still feel that they are capable of a lot better than they showed. If Bale’s muted display on Saturday could be put down to a combination of playing in an unfamiliar position and an inability on his part to impose himself on proceedings, that was not the cause of his lack of real impact, his goal apart of course, here – he looked more like his normal self when in possession in the right areas of the pitch for him, but his team mates just weren’t able to ensure that happened often enough.

Our front three may as well have been isolated lone strikers in much the same way as Kyle Lafferty was for Northern Ireland in their first match against Poland for all of the good they were able to do as a threesome – just as all over the pitch with this Welsh team, the teamwork was there when we didn’t have the ball, but notably absent when we did.

So it was that Ledley and Joe Allen, and to a lesser degree, Gunter and Taylor, could be complemented for the defensive side of their game, but not for what happened in the other facets of the sitting midfield role.

Hardly surprisingly, us mug punters tend to look at what players do when they have the ball first when forming our opinions on them, but the passing of time, along with being told by pundits how good someone is at the “unseen” things in the game has meant that there is more recognition now that what someone does without the ball is a huge factor in determining how good or bad they are. Nevertheless, any midfield player especially has to be able to contribute with the ball to a level which is consistent with what should be expected at the standard of football they are performing in and, for me, Allen and Ledley came up short in that respect.

Roy Hodgson’s decision to persevere with Kane and Sterling (the first drained of energy after carrying a very heavy workload in Spurs’ very physically demanding style of play and the second still unable to reach former heights following the move he and his agent(s) instigated last summer) helped in us surviving the first half fairly comfortably, but if anything emphasised the disparity in resources, which will always be there, between the two countries involved, it was that he could turn to Vardy and Sturridge to replace them at half time.

Although Daniel Sturridge is lucky in some ways to even be at Euro 2016 given the injury issues which have followed him throughout his career, I still felt a sense of foreboding when I saw him coming on at the start of the second half because I've always thought he was the most natural and instinctive of England's strikers - this goal which denied Wales may have looked simple, but I'm not sure that some of the other multi millionaires in white would have been able to score it*.

Although Daniel Sturridge is lucky in some ways to even be at Euro 2016 given the injury issues which have followed him throughout his career, I still felt a sense of foreboding when I saw him coming on at the start of the second half because I’ve always thought he was the most natural and instinctive of England’s strikers – this goal which denied Wales may have looked simple, but I’m not sure that some of the other multi millionaires in white would have been able to score it*.

As it turned out, Vardy did nothing except net an equaliser for which he was praised by the critics for his goalscoring instincts, when it seemed to me that all he did was “goal hang” like I used to do in the schoolyard and got lucky because the ball deflected off Ashley Williams’ head  to legitimise a goal, which would have been disallowed for offside otherwise.

Similarly, Sturridge didn’t do a great deal else beside score, but, this time, we saw the sort of instinctive striker which Wales just do not have at work, as his shot was taken so early and with so little backlift that Hennessey was blameless, despite being beaten on his near post.

With Rashford on as well to prove what a plethora of good strikers England have, it is easy to feel sorry for ourselves when you compare our resources to their’s. Indeed when Jason Mohammad interviewed Ian Rush before the game and asked him if he was wishing he was still able to play on a occasion like this, I found myself thinking that this Welsh side with Rushie in it could go a very long way in this tournament, but what happened in the ninety minutes which followed made me realise that we could have had Rush, Hughes and Giggs in their prime playing for us up front yesterday, but it would have made no difference because we never found an effective way to service our front men.

So, we now face Russia (who were beaten 2-1 by Slovakia on Wednesday) knowing that a draw will, almost certainly, be enough to put us in the last sixteen. There is a part of me which fears that England and Slovakia (who play at the same time as us) may not chase a victory too hard as they decide a draw will suit their purposes fine, but that would be a risky strategy for the latter in particular.

Does the knowledge that a draw will do mean that we will sit back and play for a point on Monday? I hope it doesn’t and, more than that, it, surely, would be the wrong policy given what we saw yesterday and have seen from the Russians in their two games so far.

Our next opponents have been very unlucky to be missing important players with injuries sustained in the lead up to the tournament and, without them, they have looked a limited outfit which lacks pace in many areas and has an aging pair of centrebacks against whom you could imagine Gareth Bale, for one, having a field day.

However, there is a doggedness about the Russians that has seen them scoring late goals in matches in which they finished the stronger, despite having been outplayed for much of the time. If Monday’s match goes into it’s final stages with us clinging on to a point, Russia will have the evidence of their previous matches and what happened to us yesterday to make them believe they will win the game in it’s last few minutes.

However, as long as we can remember to take our footballing ability out on to the pitch with us this time, I’m confident we can qualify – for the last two years Wales have shown in their competitive matches that they have it in them to succeed in the sort of challenge they face on Monday.

Finally, it would appear that the three days which saw English, Russian and Welsh fans all staying in Lille amid fears of an escalation in violence have passed off without major problems. Well done to the those who are in France supporting Wales – you have done our country proud so far, as indeed has the team, despite the result and performance against England.

*pictures courtesy of





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10 Responses to Wales come a distant second in “Battle of Britain”.

  1. paul says:

    as you state 3 players were effective, alone. the other 7 appeared to be terrified of the england players. whether or not it was orders I do not know but to constantly allow Walker to run 50 yards before a welsh player got near him was just inviting trouble. the same can be said of rose.
    How patheticaly weak was gunter in being shrugged off by Sturridge and Williams has never been a favourite of mine. yes cerain games play him but when the ball is likely to floated into the box we need a Collins. williams has never been a great header of the ball.

    Yesterday we just showed then too much respect and stood off them. unlike slovakia where we chased, harrased and niggled our way throught tackles. Give Rooney and co that room and they will destroy you. They did. They won and are through while we sweat on our fate.

  2. Clive Harry says:

    Although I was gutted after the game, like yourself Paul I wasn’t as devastated for as long as I thought I would be. Mainly because as the second half wore on I felt a second goal for England to be inevitable because of our inability to string any passes together when we actually did get possession. Sadly, the goal arrived as I was finally beginning to think we had got a point.
    I don’t want to appear too churlish about Chris Coleman because he has undoubtedly forged a great team spirit which allied to flashes of inspiration has got us deservedly to where we are now. Unfortunately, when the chips are down, I empathise with Dai’s opinions on our manager’s tactical astuteness. It invariably seems to be management by numbers with the same formation used constantly with a tinkering of personnel (usually the same ones) when changes are needed rather than any tactical switches (now where have I heard that before).
    I have always tended to share Paul’s view above about Ashley Williams – his commitment and dedication to Wales on and off the pitch being beyond reproach but he’s simply not my idea of a dominant, quality centre back. This season I think the flaws in his game have started to show down Swansea way and the last two Wales games have highlighted them. With his 32nd birthday looming, I think the writing is on the wall and I also wondered about James Collins coming on yesterday afternoon. On reflection, that would never have happened although if he had been brought on for Neil Taylor, who seemed to be missing in action every time Walker rampaged forward, Ben Davies could have moved to his natural left back position to try and shore things up. A substitution that was made involved David Edwards – another great servant of Wales but somebody who is never going to change anything or influence the course of a game – surely Andy King would have been a better option and my thoughts also turned to the speed and strength of Emyr Huws who, bizarrely in my opinion, was omitted whilst little George Williams was on the plane.
    Enough of the grumbling! I’m as excited as anyone about where we are and Russia will provide nowhere near the threat that England did and with a positive attitude we should be hopeful of progressing to the next phase.

  3. russell says:

    It was a lively day in the Queen Vaults, we sang the national anthem ,people advised which side of the bridge to poo. We had you Jack bathplugs chant after spotted a Swansea Welsh flag in the crowd. Then we were off not too complicated tactics get ball find Bale.
    We scored from a free kick which a focused keeper should have saved.
    Ramsey ran and ran and ran . Bale ran and ran .
    70 minutes and were knackered, and await the envetabale.
    It happened England fortunately win .
    Angry rants crashing of plastic glasses.
    England got one chance and that’s out in the next round or semi.
    Wales one last gasp over Russia and it’s back to the Vaults.

  4. MIKE HOPE says:

    Individually each of our players deserved no more than a 5 or 6 for yesterday’s performance yet collectively as a defensive unit I thought we were an 8 and were very unlucky with both the goals conceded.
    We can recall many games over the last couple of years where Cardiff City were outplayed in a similar manner only for David Marshall to give a man of the match performance behind an over -run defence.
    This was not the case yesterday.
    Hennessey may well have been blameless for the goals but he did not stop either of them and did not have much else to do.
    Our big failing asTOBW says is that we were unable to move the ball from defence to attack.
    We have three key players in Bale, Ramsey and Allen who as a trio have the potential when on the backfoot to launch counter attacks in the way Vardy and co have done so successfully for Leicester.
    Russia know that they have to win against us so the ability to use Bale’s pace on the counter attack should be a key part of our plans.
    Will Chris Coleman make changes for the game? I suspect not but in view of Russia’s aerial threat the brave move would be to bring in Collins for Williams[whose form has dropped alarmingly since the Jacks decided to 'rest' him] and make Bale captain!

  5. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks as ever Paul and the rest of the Mauve and Yellow gang, for giving me new insights into the Lens game.
    We know now why Cookie is paid one thirteenth of Hodgson’s salary*. Clueless.
    He kept a left back on the pitch who would earn Gold, Silver and Bronze in the same new Olympic event of Backpedalling At Speed.
    And as Clive says…Ben Davies should have been in his correct position of left back.
    Taylor made Walker seem like an unstoppable express train…not since Francisco Gento was in his pomp, have we seen a player run up and down the wing with such abandon.
    But I will not just pick on Taylor.
    There are others who are also in the line of (critical) fire.
    Indeed, only Ramsey and Chester really earned their match fee on Thursday.
    Bale has been a shadow of himself in both games. I had loved his witty instant “None” answer, when asked how many English would get into the Welsh team…but the truth is that the answer (on the strength of current form) is …only one.
    And that man would not be Bale…but Ramsey.
    Sorry to bang my old drum…but our game plan was all wrong. We needed 4-4-2 with Vokes and Church up front (HRK to replace one when tired), and a midfield of George Williams, Ramsey, King and Bale. And I am inclined to go along with Mike on Collins for Williams in the heart of defence.
    None of this will happen of course…as we have not a manager with the nous and guts to do it…especially to drop his captain.
    Re Ashley Williams: I note that you say Paul in your fine report that Vardy was onside because the ball had deflected off Ashley’s head.
    Now you may well be right.
    But as I understand the new offside laws, had the ball DEFLECTED off his head, Vardy would have been OFFSIDE …not onside.
    No, the goal was allowed because Williams was deemed to have deliberately headed the ball…albeit he then misdirected his header.
    It is the DELIBERATE bit that is the key here.
    * £250K to £3.4m

  6. Anthony O'Brien says:

    “BALE LO VALE” (Bale is worth it – ie. worth his transfer fee)) – This is what the Spanish media were saying about Gareth Bale once he had settled into his role at Real Madrid – and every Welsh fan would undoubtedly agree, especially in the light of what he has personally done into getting the team to France. And yet, in his two games so far, he has been somewhat disappointing (two rather fortuitous free-kick goals aside). Why should this be?

    1. Do we expect too much? No, because we know what he is capable of.
    2. Is he under too much pressure? Unlikely, as he’s lived with it for the best part of a decade.
    3. Is he trying too hard? Slightly possible, but not probable, given the response to the previous point.
    4. Does he have a slight injury problem? Fitness niggles are part of the modern game, but Bale’s work rate shows he is certainly fit enough to produce flashes of brilliance.
    5. Did Slovakia and (above all) England “suss him out”. Not on the evidence — on his day he can be unstoppable.
    6. Have the other players in the Welsh team provided the support he needs? Yes, in terms of effort and commitment. No, in terms of ball control, and — to use the very perceptive words of our Blogmeister — no in terms of “joined-up football”. The lack of ball control led the tv commentator to wonder if the Welsh players were wearing the right boots for the pitch; and the lack of creative football (even from Ramsey and Allen) was worrying from the start.
    7. Was Bale playing his normal game, or was he playing in a position and manner that stifled his talents? Quite probably.
    8. Was the managerial strategy adequate to the task? Yes, in terms of the result of the first game, but even then there were obvious problems; and against England there was no flash of tactical brilliance designed to get the best out of Gareth Bale as the game progressed, Wales were playing a “backs to the wall” game and our players were unable to engineer successful counter-attacks or to stem the flood of attacking moves from England. A different use of substitutes, for example, might – just might – have done something to counter the forceful runs of the English full backs. Walker in particular was almost unstoppable in the way that we hoped and expected Gareth Bale to be. If Collins had come on near the end to stiffen our exhausted defence, it may be that we could have held out for the draw, though it is perhaps still be the case that Mr Coleman and Collins have personal issues! Nevertheless, Collins must certainly be in the manager’s thoughts, given that Russia have a certain aerial ability.

    All this said, I hope and pray for a better Welsh result on Monday, So many people back home, even those with no previous interest in football, have shown such incredible enthusiasm for the Welsh team that to lose against Russia has to be unthinkable.

  7. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Your explanation of the situation regarding Ashley Williams’ header is exactly as I understood it Dai – Vardy was onside once the ball came off Williams after he’d made a move towards it, if he hadn’t done that, I believe the goal would have been disallowed because the ball would have been deemed to have hit him.
    Regarding some of the other matters raised in the replies over the past couple of days. I’d be more supportive of Chris Coleman than most of you because I cannot believe any manager/coach would tell his team to purposely defend with five or six outfield players in the penalty area in open play (like we were for much of the time in the second forty five minutes) during his half time team talk- there could only be one outcome for any side who willingly played that way. Yes, we did look to hold on to our lead by concentrating on defence, but not to the extent that we saw as the second half panned out. As I mentioned in my piece, England should be credited for the way they disrupted our passing game, but they also forced us back by their powerful play which meant that, with the personnel we had on the pitch and with our passing game askew, we had no option but to sit as deep as we did.
    This, of course, begs the question as to why didn’t Coleman change the personnel then? The trouble is though I don’t see many with the qualities to change games being played at such a high level on the Welsh bench. Bringing someone like Sam Vokes on might have meant that we could knock long passes up to him which he could hold up long enough for others to get far enough forward to support him – that would have moved the whole team another ten to fifteen yards up the pitch and the impression that we were just hanging on for grim death would have disappeared. However, to ask Vokes to perform such a huge task on his own would have presented him with a workload that is beyond him, based on what he has done in his career so far.
    To be fair, a draw would have suited us fine and as we were only trailing in the game for a minute or so, I daresay our manager would argue that we didn’t need to change the system, but he must have been worried that the substitutions he did make were not enough to get us that crucial few yards further up the pitch – we did defend well and I can’t help thinking that we could have held on if we had kept a better shape.
    Looking forward, I’m not sure that we’ll see Wales picking an attacking line up for a match that we don’t have to win. I predict that the system we use will be the same as the one seen in our two matches so far. I share some of the opinions expressed about Ashley Williams’ latest performances and Clive points out that he is now at an age where you have to wonder if he’ll be a part of a Welsh defence to play in Russia in two years time if we get there. However, I’d be amazed if Coleman contemplates dropping him for Monday, even for one second. That said, I take the point that we may well need more of an aerial presence at the back against Russia and so the suggestion of Collins instead of Davies, who would move over to replace Taylor on the left, seems a possibility to me.
    As for other selection matters, it’s a real mystery to me that a player on such a high after receiving a Premier League Winner’s medal has not got on the pitch yet and, being honest, I’d be surprised to see Andy King start on Monday as Dave Edwards has been preferred to him twice now if you also consider his use as a substitute against England. I must say though that Joe Ledley’s, hardly surprising, injury on Thursday and the battle he had to get fit enough to feature only makes Emyr Huws’ omission all the harder to understand.

  8. paul says:

    You have all hit the nail on the head. Coleman, no nous or not brave enough. Read Slade here. No plan b and same substitutes.
    will not drop players when out of form. Captain or not Williams is always likely to give you an error in a dangerous position. That header, no english player there yet he couldn’t make a clean header.
    He made his first error as early as the first minute.
    Taylor, his first error was stepping over the line to kick off.
    I look back to when Coleman took over, he immediately took the captaincy off Ramsey and I feel he will always try and get as many jacks in the team at the expense of any other player. In form or not. Drop Taylor and its one less jack in the side.

  9. Russell says:

    I think Coleman has limitations and is lucky to have inherited a marvellous team spirit and squad from Gary Speed foundation’s. The spirit and effort mask those limitations , I think William’s is about the best choice as a captain, Ramsey in my view is not ready for the role.
    I thought up until the England game Taylor was very good and he and Gunter earned a lot of praise as overlapping effective full backs , I’d have them happily in City’s team.
    It makes sense that Swansea players are in the fore front of selection considering their premiership status.
    England were strong in all positions

  10. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Just a few quick observations about what you say regarding Gareth Bale AMO. As I alluded to in my piece, it seems to me that against Slovakia the opportunities were there for Bale to make an impact in open play, but, although we saw him leading counter attacks in the last ten minutes, in general it just didn’t happen. On the other hand, against England the problem was we just could not get the ball to him in positions where we could see him at his best often enough. The fact that he was able to make a limited impact late on against Slovakia when he dropped a bit deeper to accommodate Robson-Kanu suggests he is happier playing in a sort of number ten role rather than leading the attack like he did in the first sixty five minutes, but, whatever the reason, if “blame” has to be applied for Bale’s limited impact in open play so far it’s, essentially, been down to the man himself against Slovakia and his team mates against England.
    Also, there have been times when I’ve wondered if he might be carrying some minor knock which is affecting his acceleration in particular, but the way he was able to sprint clear of Walker in the second half suggests that this is not the case – hopefully, he and his team mates will ensure that we see Bale making the sort of impact we all hoped for before the tournament tomorrow against a defence which, on the face of it, seems to be extremely ill equipped to cope with his strengths.
    I’ll also say something about Dai’s suggestion of playing two up front while I’m on. I’ve nothing against playing two strikers – in fact, in one of the few perceptive things I’ve heard him say during this tournament, Martin Keown stated that central defenders who have only been playing the game in the last ten years or so do not have too much experience of playing against teams fielding a couple of strikers and so it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock when some of them struggle to cope when it does happen to them.
    There are couple of problems I see with Wales playing the sort of basic 4-4-2 Dai wants though. First, I think sticking to 4-4-2 would mean that we were not utilising the squad in the best way to get the maximum out of the playing resources we have – to me, players such as Allen in midfield and Ben Davies and Chester at the back have to be in the starting eleven and I find it hard to see how we could best utilise them in a 4-4-2. I’d say the players we have are better suited to a 3-5-2 (as opposed to the the 5-3-2 it would probably become with Gunter and Taylor as the alleged wing backs) and this would also give us the two strikers Dai wants. However, the problem I have with that is that I cannot think of anything I’ve seen from his preferred pairing of Vokes and Church in their international appearances (either as a partnership or as individuals) which suggests they have it in them to make the sort of partnership which can frighten defences at this level – given Bale’s aerial ability, I’d go for him and Robson-Kanu as a front two, but I still believe that, potentially, Bale and Ramsey playing just behind Robson-Kanu is the attacking set up most likely to open up defences as long as we get that link between the other eight and them working a lot better than it did against England.

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