Coming into Euro 2016, England had the best goal differential of any side in qualifying and Russia were a mess. Based on recent form, it made Satuday’s Group B opener between the two sides a meeting of the best and worst side in the group. In that light, a 1-1 draw and shared points has to be seen as a disappointment.
For Wales, on the other hand, a 2-1 victory over Slovakia sets up as early leaders in Group B and favourites already to advance given the expanded format of this year’s Euros. Theirs wasn’t always a convincing showing, but they got the goals they needed and a result that puts them in poll positions as they prepare to face England.
"Obviously it’s going to be tough," said James Milner of having to take on a confident Wales side in the second match of group play with it already feeling like something of a must-win situation for England. "It’s a very different game to the first. We all know each other well, both sets of players, so it’ll be an interesting game."
Given most of Wales’ squad play in the Premier League, it will also mean a lot of players will be going up against club teammates on Thursday. That has Milner expecting something of a Premier League-style meeting; a clash of familiar players and familiar styles after the two sides took on Russia and Slovakia respectively.
"It’s perhaps more the type of game we’re used to playing week-in, week-out," added the Liverpool midfielder, who knows that if he plays it will be against teammate Joe Allen and possibly Danny Ward as well, depending on Wayne Hennessey’s fitness. "But with a tournament atmosphere, it’s going to be a special occasion."
On paper, England had to be considered one of the favourites for Euro 2016 given their record in qualifying. Now, they face Wales knowing a loss likely rules them out from advancing, a result that would be terrible for England but at least, for Liverpool fans, mean an earlier pre-season return for many of their key players.