MANAGER Roy Hodgson has told Gareth Bale not to question England’s passion or patriotism ahead of Thursday’s crunch Euro 2016 clash against Wales.
Bale claimed last week that Welsh players had more desire than their neighbours and that England “big themselves up before they’ve done anything”.
Wales went on to win their Group B opener 2-1 over Slovakia, while Hodgson’s men were held to a 1-1 draw after Russia’s stoppage-time equaliser.
That makes the stakes in Lens even higher than they already were, with qualification potentially at stake as well as bragging rights.
But Hodgson believes the Real Madrid player’s jibes were ill-informed.
“Receiving disrespectful comments is part and parcel of being a footballer and a football coach,” he said.
“I don’t ever comment on other people. I’ve been in the game sufficiently long to know every opponent has got an opinion; the other day it was (Russia goalkeeper Igor) Akinfeev saying we were the worst seeded team and now it’s Gareth Bale.
“They can have those opinions, but I don’t have any doubts personally about our patriotism or desire and that’s the important thing.
“If he believes that that’s the case he’s welcome to that opinion.
“But we know who we are, we know what we are. We don’t have any doubts about ourselves in that respect.”
England may have felt deflated after giving away two points in the closing seconds against Russia, particularly given their dominance in a goalless first half.
But Hodgson was largely happy with what he witnessed, if not in terms of end product then certainly with respect to the qualities Bale had queried: hunger and intensity.
“It is a tight dressing room, a passionate dressing room,” he added. “I would recommend anybody who does have any doubts about players in that respect to watch the game and come to me afterwards and show me where they’ve seen that lack of passion and lack of patriotism because I certainly didn’t see it.
“It’s very difficult to come and talk positively when something has kicked us down in last minute like it has.
“We’ll get over it, no question of that, we’ll bounce back. My hope is and my dream is that we’ll play as well in the next two matches and go on to do well in the tournament.”
Hodgson has hinted he will review England’s system, having fielded a new-look starting XI in the first game, featuring recalls for Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling with the former more successful than the latter – and captain Wayne Rooney playing in midfield for the first time in his long international career.
That experiment worked better than he might have hoped, with Rooney having had a crash course in the role at Manchester United last season.
“I think it would have been harder if Wayne hadn’t been playing that position for United,” said Hodgson.
“That’s what made it a solution for us, something we thought we would like to do.
“We definitely wanted Wayne in the team for this game, definitely wanted him to captain the team in the opening game for a number of reasons.
“We also really wanted to see Sterling and Lallana in the wider positions because we felt they would cause Russia some problems and I thought they did.”
Hodgson may yet revert to two specialist strikers and a four-man midfield against Wales, particularly with Leicester striker Jamie Vardy straining at the leash to make a mark on his first major tournament.
“When we selected our squad...we wanted options in the front positions to play 4-4-2, the diamond and 4-3-3,” said the 68-year-old.
“It doesn’t take a lot of changing if we go from one to the other. The principles we work on remain the same and players work on both in training sessions.”
Rooney remains confident of reaching the knockout stages after a fine display in Marseille that showed much promise but lacked the required cutting edge.
It was a missed opportunity, but there remains palpable positivity, especially after the successful decision to deploy the Three Lions captain in midfield.
Rooney thrived in the role for FA Cup winners Manchester United towards the end of the campaign, but Saturday was his first time in the role for his country.
“It worked well, we complemented each other’s games well,” he said of England’s system and his role within it.
“Obviously it’s my first game there for England, but I’ve played the last few months there for Man United so I’m used to that position and I think it worked well for me and the team.”
Aaron Ramsey, meanwhile, insists Wales will focus on themselves and not be too concerned about England.
“We wanted to start off well in this competition and we’ve managed to do that,” said Ramsey. “We work hard for each other, we have quality going forward and we are ready to take on anybody.”
Match report/ratings: Page 3.