BORDEAUX • Gareth Bale has accused England of being big-headed and lacking pride and passion in the opening salvo of what promises to be a war of words before the Euro 2016 tie with Wales on Thursday.
The forward said that he felt inspired when he put on his country's jersey and that feeling was not matched by his England counterparts, who had been troubled by the expectation that had weighed down their best players in the past.
His accusation is bound to provoke a testy response from England, who were scheduled to meet Russia in their opening group B game this morning (Singapore time), despite past players such as Gary Neville admitting that fear and doubt pervades the squad.
"They big themselves up before they've done anything so we're going to go there and we believe we can beat them," Bale said. "We've got a lot more passion and pride about us than them. We'll definitely show that on the day."
The Real Madrid player, who was signed by the Spanish club from England's Tottenham Hotspur for a world record transfer fee of €100.8 million (S$157.4 million) in 2013, added that England (11th in the world) hold no fears for his side (26th) despite enjoying a higher ranking .
PASSION WILL BEAT HYPE
They big themselves up before they've done anything so we're going to go there and we believe we can beat them. We've got a lot more passion and pride about us than them. We'll definitely show that on the day.
GARETH BALE, Wales forward, on facing England in Group B.
"For me it is probably the stand-out game in the group stages, but there is no pressure on us because they believe they can beat us," said Bale, 26.
"I had a chuckle when England came out (in the draw), I'm not going to lie. It's an amazing game to be involved in and it's like any derby - you never want to lose to the enemy."
He said the comparison was best highlighted in rugby union when the nation united, spurring the Welsh players to go the extra mile.
He suggested that that could stem from a feeling that they come from a small country and wanting to do well against reasonable logic.
He cited Wales' win at Twickenham in the Rugby World Cup in September.
"I remember the win," he said. "I don't feel we have to do anything differently.
"It's just what we are like. I remember when I was young being in a pub with my parents, everyone watching rugby or football, singing. It's the way we are brought up.
"If you're Welsh, look at the rugby, we feel more pride and passion than anyone else. Look at the national anthem, everyone sings, the whole stadium.
"I remember the Belgium game a year ago, we were all tired, and the whole stadium just started singing it. I don't think any other nation would do that. Being Welsh just brings it out of you."
Bale also paid tribute to former Wales manager Gary Speed, who sparked the team's revival before tragically taking his own life in November 2011.
"What happened made us come together, stronger," said Bale, citing the team's "Together, Stronger" motto. "We've had to go deep to bring our emotions out, bring it onto the field. In this campaign you've seen it. After every game, we are all in huddles.
"We've been through so much to be here now, and it's definitely a shame that we've had so many great players - Ryan Giggs being one of them - who never experienced a major tournament. I think we appreciate it more than other countries, and we just have to give it a go."
Bale was eligible to play for England through his grandmother but he never gave it a second thought. "I would never play for England," he said.
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE