Crofts can shine against England
Norwich City midfielder Andrew Crofts will not be overawed by the prospect of facing England in front of a full house of nearly 70,000 – according to the ex-Canary who knows all about the Millennium Stadium.
Crofts is hoping to win his 16th cap for Wales in Saturday’s Euro 2012 Group G qualifier in Cardiff, and is in prime form after helping the Canaries into second place in the Championship in his first season with the club.
And the 26-year-old has exactly the right mentality to cope with the big occasion, according to former Norwich and Wales striker Iwan Roberts, a former team-mate of Crofts at Gillingham.
“Crofty’s playing for a team challenging for automatic promotion to the Premier League so he has nothing to be in awe of,” said Roberts (inset), who will be commentating on the game for BBC Wales.
“He is not one to let the pressure get to him. He’s a very level-headed lad, always wants to learn and listens to what people want to say. He takes everything on board and loves being in and around that Welsh squad. From an early stage in his career, from his workrate, his willingness to learn, staying behind for extra training, it was clear Crofty was determined to get to the top.
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“He’s done it the hard way – going to Brighton resurrected his career and then he got the move to Norwich in the summer, one of Paul Lambert’s very good signings, and he’s up there with the best of them.”
If national team boss Gary Speed picks Crofts against an England midfield that may include names such as Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Jack Wilshere, Roberts is confident he can rise to the challenge.
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“I am sure Gary wouldn’t have a problem in picking an in-form Andrew Crofts, who’s a threat in front of goal, throwing him in on Saturday. He’s a similar player to Speed in some ways,” said Roberts. “Given a chance on Saturday he would never let anybody down.
“I would think Gary will go with five in midfield and Crofty and David Vaughan of Blackpool will be good for two of those roles.”
Roberts won 15 caps for Wales, but there was no fixture against England during his international career. He knows the Millennium well, however, from club and country duty.
He said: “It’s not just a big game for Crofty but the whole of Welsh football. Whenever you play against England it’s a massive occasion, whether you’re Craig Bellamy, Gareth Bale or whoever.
“As a nation we need to put some pride back into the red jersey. We’ve lost our way and there is no better game than Saturday. Wales will be massive underdogs but when the Millennium Stadium is full, in my opinion – and I’m a bit biased – there is no better stadium.
“I still remember the play-off final with Norwich and what a great atmosphere that was and there will be an unbelievable atmosphere like that again on Saturday with nearly 70,000, mostly Welshmen desperate to beat England.”
Saturday’s meeting will be the 100th between the two nations, Wales winning just 14. Most of all they need to get some points on the board in Group G after losing the first three of their eight qualifying matches, against Montenegro, Bulgaria and Switzerland.
“The coaching staff and the players will say all the right things but if you have lost the first three games of your qualifying group it is mostly about playing for pride,” said Roberts, now 42. “Wales have lost four games on the spin and conceded seven goals in the last two games.
“Gary’s first game in charge was the Nations Cup match in the Republic of Ireland but this is his first real test. When a game against England comes along you don’t have to say a lot, the players will lift themselves. You shouldn’t need to motivate yourself to play for your country, I believe.”
The last meeting between the two countries came in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers.
“Wales played England four or five years ago in the qualifying group and lost both games and never really got amongst them, didn’t get a tackle in or really compete,” said Roberts.
“My real hope on Saturday is that after 90 minutes, win, lose or draw, the England team will know they’ve been in a tough game and will be wondering how Wales managed to lose the first three matches in the group.”