Belfast Telegraph

Bale brilliance can hurt England, warns Crouch

By Sam Wallace

If there is one footballer who knows the benefit of Gareth Bale's compelling ability to get past a full-back and cross the ball into the area then it is his Tottenham Hotspur team-mate Peter Crouch who, come Saturday at the Millennium Stadium, will for once be on the opposite side to the most exciting young player in British football.

If, indeed, Crouch is selected. He conceded yesterday that despite a ranking of 16th in the all-time England goalscorers' list (he is two behind Geoff Hurst and only eight goals from going joint fifth with the likes of Nat Lofthouse and Alan Shearer) he has no idea whether on Saturday he will have to make way for Andy Carroll.

This must be some England team when 22 goals in 42 caps (of which only 19 were starts) does not guarantee you a first XI place.

This being Crouch there was no bitterness or threats to walk away from international football. Mystifyingly Carroll refused to speak to the press but, as ever, Crouch was happy to step into the breach. He put into perspective the achievements of his young Welsh club-mate and also reminded Bale exactly what the standard really was to fulfil Fabio Capello's rather grandiose claim that the 21-year-old is currently the best player in the world.

There is a chance that, if Capello and England get it wrong, and if Bale is in the mood, he could destroy them on his own, the same way he did Internazionale at White Hart Lane. But the best in the world? “Really? He's got some way to go to be Lionel Messi's standard,” Crouch said. “He sets the bar extremely high.

“Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo are out there on their own at the moment, with the sheer number of goals they've scored. Gareth is only young, developing, and in that position he's got to be up there with the top players in the world. “He's done it in the Champions League. What he did to Inter Milan, over two games, showed people what he is capable of and what he will do in the future.

“Wales' biggest threat is Gareth Bale. That's no secret. He's a top-class player and been on fire for the last two years. It's something we will be looking at.

“We only assess opponents [today] and Friday, look at videos and I'm sure Gareth will be prominent in a lot of those videos. We might have to double up on him.

“That's not a bad way of looking at it. West Ham on the weekend coped with our two wingers well. He had one of his quietest games. He's been top class. Sometimes he's unplayable.”

Asked by a Welsh journalist whether he would prefer Bale to be English, Crouch pointed out that was not a thought that had ever crossed Bale's mind.

“I know Gareth is Welsh through and through,” he added. “My mum and dad know his parents very well. He's a proud Welshman.

“There's no chance he would ever want to play for England. Of course, we'd all love him to play for England. I've been giving him more stick. He's not been giving me so much.

“The thing about him is his energy. He's got tremendous pace. He runs the whole length of the pitch with the ball then he runs the whole length back just as quickly.

“Then he's ready to do it again in a minute's time. It's the sheer energy sometimes you look at him and think 'How does he do that?' I get tired watching him. He's got fantastic ability and a great left foot as well.”

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