MANCHESTER, England, June 15, 2016 /PRNewswire/ --
A "fired up" Wayne Rooney has left his critics eating their words ahead of England's eagerly-awaited Euro 2016 clash with Wales.
That's the view of Stuart Pearce, the legendary Three Lions defender who has swapped tough-tackling for tough-talking as bookie Betfred's tournament pundit.
He's launched a staunch defence of the England skipper, who has now completed the re-invention of himself as an influential midfielder rather than striker on the international stage as well as domestically at Manchester United.
But Pearce in his no-holds barred assessment on Betfred TV is baffled like virtually all England fans about the Premier League 25-goal top scorer Harry Kane taking corners.
Pearce said: "Wayne Rooney has really silenced his critics. A lot of people were suggesting that going into the tournament he wasn't good enough for the squad, which was absolutely ridiculous. Some people were equally arguing he shouldn't start, which is a perspective I could understand a little more. I said prior to the big kick-off that if players aren't in form then they shouldn't be starting, but he's obviously fired up.
"He's come out and played with an attitude of: 'I'll show you I'm good enough to be in this team'. I think the young players look up to him and you can't underestimate his influence on this squad."
Of England's opening 1-1 draw with Russia that has maintained England's standing at 9/1 with Betfred to win the tournament, Pearce said: "There were a lot of positives to take out of the game for England. In the first half there were no nerves, which is always a good sign in tournaments. We lacked a little cutting edge and that final finish. At half-time, I think most would have been delighted, but we were just waiting for that first goal. When we got it, everything was going to plan. We need to understand quickly how to shut games out, because the late equaliser was a bitter blow.
"If the lads need an example, then they only have to watch how the Germans and Italians have done it in their games. Pre-tournament no one thought it would be us entering Thursday's game on one point and the Welsh on three. In fact, it seemed very likely it would be the other way around, but from an excitement point of view, it probably adds to the occasion. It's looking finely balanced. For England, they have to go and win the game.
"A point will probably be enough to go through, but they will want to beat Wales. The three points in that opening match has taken the pressure off Chris Coleman, and they'll be buoyed up by their good performance against Slovakia. I wouldn't make specific plans for Gareth Bale….I certainly wouldn't change the team shape.
"Everyone is fully aware of Bale's qualities. The only information I'd be giving the lads is to not give any stupid free-kicks away around the box, and when Bale picks it up to get tight on him. The Italians were excellent in that department. Every time Eden Hazard or Kevin De Bruyne picked it up, they had a defender facing him up, and another one two or three yards behind the play giving instructions. That was the key to their victory."
Pearce reckons Manchester City's Raheem Sterling is "facing a few questions about his place in the side." He went on: "The first half, I actually thought he did reasonably well, but he needed that little bit more final product. That's always been the thing that is a little bit missing from his game. The shape worked very well, and the problem Roy will be faced with if he leaves Sterling out now is that we have no natural wide player; Andros Townsend, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott are all back at home, so I think that plays in Raheem's favour. I can't see him wanting to change that shape."
Meanwhile on the great "Why is Kane taking corners" debate Pearce too has been left scratching his head. "I've just watched an interview with Adam Lallana, and he talked about how because we have such a tall team, it doesn't really matter about losing Harry's height in the box at corners. I disagree - I see people like Raheem Sterling, Wayne Rooney and even Lallana himself taking the corners. They don't possess much height but could almost certainly be putting in the same level of quality. It's not really working for me at the moment, and it will be interesting to see if Roy sticks with it."
England go into this crunch game as the 4/7 favourites with Wales at 9/2 and the draw at 11/4.
Meanwhile Betfred are predicting a betting bonanza on Thursday with this massive Euro 2016 clash and Day 3 of Royal Ascot with the feature race the "Gold Cup in Honour of The Queen's 90th Bithday."
Wedneday Football Specials
All England v Wales Specials available from 9:30am for a limited time only, £100 max bet, singles only…
England v Wales 14:00 BBC1
England to win and both teams to score 7/2 from 11/4
Harry Kane or Gareth Bale to score 1st 5/2 from 7/4
Both players must start for bet to stand
Harry Kane to score anytime and England to win 2/1 from 13/8
Gareth Bale to score anytime and Wales to win 8/1 from 13/2