5 things England could learn from Wales' Euro 2016 success
Wales meet Portugal in the semi-finals of Euro 2016 on Wednesday while England suffered the embarrassment of losing to Iceland in the last 16.
Here we look at five things that England could learn from Wales' memorable campaign in France.
1. Team spirit
Wales are fortunate to call on the world-class ability of Gareth Bale but their real strength is their unity. It has been forged from friendships which have been in place for over a decade in some cases. They have known dark days, both on the pitch and off it, through the death of their former manager Gary Speed. Their motto 'Together Stronger' covers management, players and other support staff and has also been adopted by the fans. All staff in France have stayed and eaten at the same hotel. England's players look like a collection of individuals by contrast, desperately attempting to foster team spirit after being thrown together from rival clubs. Jamie Carragher and Ryan Giggs were not alone in criticising the 'washbag' culture, in reference to the sight of players leaving the team bus with a leather cosmetics bag under their arm, with England players accused of being more interested in fame than success. England had two hotels in Chantilly, one for the players and another for some FA staff, creating the image of a divide within their group.
2. Know your best team
It sounds a simple recipe for success but England manager Roy Hodgson never seemed to know what his best team was. Did he play Raheem Sterling out wide? Where was Wayne Rooney most effective? Who was his best striker? He eventually settled on Rooney as a central midfielder, but the out-of-sorts Sterling was in, out and then in again. Uncertainty seemed to hinder the performances of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, while Daniel Sturridge was often played out of position on the right. It was the opposite for Wales boss Chris Coleman who knew his best side throughout Euro 2016 qualifying and into the tournament. Everyone in the Wales side knows their role and, even though they have nowhere near the same playing pool as England to draw from, they can at least cover positions if injuries and suspensions strike.
3. Know your best formation
Hodgson wanted to switch systems to accommodate different players but the end result was total confusion. Sometimes it was Kane up front on his own, other times two strikers were deployed. Pushing Rooney back led to a two-man holding midfield when England had previously played with a diamond. Hodgson's plan seemed to leave the players bewildered and England looking disorganised. Wales have stuck rigidly to playing three central defenders at Euro 2016 with their wing-backs pushed high to offer width, and even get into goal-scoring positions with Neil Taylor scoring against Russia. Wales play an unusual system as Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey both effectively operate as number 10s, but it has been designed for them to cause maximum damage - and it has worked to spectacular effect.
4. Show the opposition respect
Hodgson's decision to make six changes for the final group game against Slovakia was aimed at saving the legs of key players for the knock-out stages. But it was a sign that Slovakia - who had beaten reigning European champions Spain in qualifying and world champions Germany in a pre-tournament friendly - were being taken for granted. The 0-0 draw cost England top spot in the group and set up the game against Iceland. Coleman has always preached that Wales can look no further than the next game. He has always talked up the opposition, while saying that Wales revel in being the underdogs.
5. Media savvy
England's awkward approach to dealing with the media extended to a blanket ban on the squad talking about their darts games at the hotel. The team's Leo the Lion mascot also became an unnecessary sideshow with goalkeeper Joe Hart sharply replying at a press conference that he was there to talk about football and not a cuddly toy. Media access was often limited, the squad got around a competition loophole to only hold walkabouts rather than training sessions at the match venue the day before games and key players hid away at their Chantilly hotel. The Wales camp has been far more relaxed with players pictured on the beach, eating ice cream and meeting local people. It has led to positive vibes and great support for Wales at their Brittany base. Bale has been readily accessible to the media, taking the lead in press conferences and is more than happy to provide updates on the squad's quizzes and table tennis competition.