Gareth Bale: England can’t match Wales for pride and passion

Gareth Bale has stoked up tension ahead of Thursday's clash with England. Picture: Getty Images
Gareth Bale has stoked up tension ahead of Thursday's clash with England. Picture: Getty Images
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GARETH Bale says England can not match Wales for pride and passion and that will be demonstrated when they meet at Euro 2016.

Wales will end their 58-year wait to play at a major tournament when they face Slovakia in their Group B opener in Bordeaux this evening. But Bale is already relishing Thursday’s clash with England in Lens, against opponents he believes have an inflated opinion of themselves.

“They big themselves up before they’ve done anything, so we’re going to go there and we believe we can beat them,” said Bale.

“For me it is probably the stand-out game in the group stages, but there is no pressure on us because they believe they can beat us.

“I had a chuckle when England came out, I’m not going to lie.

“It’s an amazing game to be involved in and it’s like any derby, you never want to lose to the enemy.

“I think we’ve got a lot more passion and pride about us than them. We’ll definitely show that on the day.”

Cardiff-born Bale qualified to play for England through his grandmother but the Real Madrid forward said he would never question his choice to play for Wales, even if they had failed to qualify for a major tournament during his career.

Bale added: “I don’t know what it is, but if you’re Welsh, we feel more pride and passion than anyone else.

“Look at the national anthem, everyone sings, the whole stadium. I remember the Belgium game, we were all tired, and the whole stadium just started singing it. I don’t think any other nation would do that. Being Welsh just brings it out of you.

“It’s like when I was young and being in a pub with my parents, everyone watching rugby or football on the television. Everyone was together, singing. It’s the way we are brought up.”

Wales’ own journey to a major tournament has been longer and more painful than most. As well as the desperate near-misses down the years, the current squad had to cope with the shock death of their manager Gary Speed in November 2011.

Speed’s death hit the Wales squad hard at a time when their fortunes were on the up, and it took them some time to recover.

“What happened made us come together, stronger,” said Bale. We’ve had to go deep to bring our emotions out, bring it onto the field.

“In this campaign you’ve seen it, after every game we are all in huddles.”

Playing Slovakia in Bordeaux will bring back special memories for Bale. He became Wales’ youngest ever goalscorer, at the age of 17 years and 83 days, when he scored a trademark free-kick against Slovakia in October 2006.

But Wales lost that Cardiff game 5-1, and there have been plenty of dark days on the field as the current generation matured into the players they are today.

“There was difficult times for a while, but we were all young and building for the future,” said Bale.

“We’ve had a style of play which has taken time to embed. I don’t think we stopped believing but we had to get more experience, grow together.

“It’s just been a process. A long one, but something that needed to happen.”