- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

CHAINTILLY, France (AP) - There’s tension in the air ahead of what national media have called the “Battle of Britain” between England and Wales at the European Championship.

And it’s not just on the streets of Lens or nearby Lille.

Security concerns and fears of fresh fan violence have dominated the build-up to one of the most anticipated matches of the group stage, but some antagonistic comments from the players are also fanning the flames.

Wales forward Gareth Bale started it all off last week, calling England the “enemy” and saying his team has “got a lot more passion and pride about us than them.”

“They big themselves up before they’ve done anything,” Bale said.

England coach Roy Hodgson described Bale’s comments as “disrespectful,” while England midfielder Jack Wilshere returned the barbs.

“We know that Wales don’t like us,” Wilshere said. “Do we like them? Not really!”

Bale spoke out again on Tuesday, saying of England that “it’s good that they bit” at his remarks.

“There are no mind games,” said the Real Madrid star. “Nothing’s fazing us, we don’t feel any pressure.”

England considers Germany and Argentina as its biggest rivals on the international soccer stage because of high-profile matches between those teams at major tournaments. For Wales, though, there’s only one real foe - the English.

“Everyone says they want England’s scalp, it’s not just Wales - it’s the same for every country,” England midfielder Adam Lallana said Tuesday. “They want to play England, up their game and we thrive off that. It makes us more hungry.

“It’s a big game. We don’t need anyone else to tell us that.”

Lallana disagreed that the match means more to Wales than to England.

“We know we have to be up for it,” the Liverpool midfielder said. “We don’t need any motivation. We motivate ourselves.

“We’ve got big players in our team who are used to dealing with pressure, week in week out. We’ve learnt to thrive off that.”

Wales has spent so long in the doldrums that England hasn’t treated its neighbor as a true soccer rival. Rugby is different - the countries have played each other three times in the past nine months and often vie for the title as the best team in Europe. But it is another story altogether with the round ball.

That’s not to say the England and Wales players won’t know each other inside out. The top players from each team come across other regularly in the English Premier League or, in the case of Real Madrid forward Bale, the Champions League.

Wilshere said it will almost be like a Premier League game.

“It can perhaps add a different dimension to the game,” England defender Ryan Bertrand said. “Perhaps a slightly more competitive nature. No doubt the players will have a few friends in the opposing team.”

Clearly, the stakes are high for both sides on Wednesday. Wales opened with a 2-1 win over Slovakia in Group B, while England drew 1-1 with Russia after conceding a stoppage-time equalizer.

The English Football Association has serious concerns about security for the game at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens, which is only 30 kilometers (around 20 miles) from Lille, where Russia will take on Slovakia on Wednesday. Many England fans will be staying in Lille on Wednesday ahead of the England-Wales game.

UEFA has threatened to disqualify England from the Euros if there is further trouble, following violence by its fans in Marseille.

“It would be devastating,” Lallana said. “Our message is for everyone to be safe and sensible, enjoy the day, enjoy the match, and be respectful when we’re playing.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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