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Optimistic England and Wales fans gear up for crunch ‘Battle of Britain’ match

England fans pose for a photograph at a souq in Doha on the day of the FIFA World Cup Group B match between Wales and England (Nick Potts/PA)
England fans pose for a photograph at a souq in Doha on the day of the FIFA World Cup Group B match between Wales and England (Nick Potts/PA)

Optimistic England and Wales fans have started gearing up for their crunch World Cup group match in Qatar – which has been dubbed the “Battle of Britain”.

The two home nations meet at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium for their final group B fixture on Tuesday, with hoards of supporters having made the trip and millions more watching back home.

At an investiture ceremony, the King told former Sunderland star Gary Bennett he “just wanted a good game of football” when asked who he would be supporting.

Downing Street said Rishi Sunak would be supporting England, but hoped both teams could advance “as far as possible” in the competition.

Fans from both nations began preparation for the game early on Tuesday at the Red Lion pub in Doha, which has become a popular haunt for supporters of both teams.

The Three Lions currently top the group and need just a point to guarantee their progress to the knockout stages, while Wales must win and hope for a favourable result between Iran and the USA.

England fan Mick Martin, 62, from Aylesbury, said Wales are a “wounded animal” but added: “We should be good enough. If we’re not good enough to beat Wales or get a good result against Wales we really shouldn’t be here, should we?”

But one Wales fan made a last-minute decision to fly to Qatar to watch the game without telling his girlfriend.

David ‘Dai’ Jones from Pontypridd, South Wales, could not resist travelling to the game – despite receiving an ultimatum from his partner of 11 years.

The 33-year-old electrician told the PA news agency: “I thought she might get over it in time, but I never would, so I made the decision to come.”

Speaking of England’s chances at the tournament, Mr Martin said: “We’re positive, we’re very optimistic – we’re deluded optimists, we’re stupid idiots really, it’s a rollercoaster but we always hope that we’re going to win and expect we’re going to win, but we’re not too down if we don’t.”

Tony Rogers and his three friends were the only Welsh supporters in the Red Lion pub, surrounded by an ever-growing sea of England fans.

“We’ve got to up our game,” said 58-year-old Mr Rogers.

FIFA World Cup 2022
Wales fans Tony Rogers (left), Mike Gristwood (centre) and Steve Pope (right) in the Red Lion Pub & Restaurant in Doha (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“After the Iran match we were all quite down, we just want to come away from here having done something.”

Fellow Wales fan Mike Gristwood, 52, from Swansea, said he and his friends were feeling “slightly nervous” ahead of the match.

“But we’ll be singing our hearts out later and we’ll be that 12th man that gets our boys over the line,” he said.

Fans from both nations spoke of their positive experience of the tournament so far, with some saying it had “exceeded” their expectations.

Mike Ritter, 36, from London, said his experience of the World Cup has been better than expected although joked the “football has been worse” after watching England’s 0-0 draw with USA.

Mr Ritter, who is attending his fourth World Cup and arrived on a shuttle flight from Dubai, told the PA news agency: “We landed at 10am this morning and fly back at seven tomorrow morning and between 3am and 7am there’s not a lot to do, but hopefully it’s a good result and we don’t really care.”

FIFA World Cup 2022
Fans gather at the Red Lion Pub & Restaurant in Doha (Jonathan Brady/PA)

On what England boss Gareth Southgate should do against Wales, Mr Ritter replied: “Play Phil Foden. He should have come on at half-time against the States, so I think it’s important he gets a game today.”

His friend James Vincent, 36, and living in Dubai, said the long days for the shuttle flights to Qatar left him feeling “pretty knackered”, adding: “Hopefully, it’ll be worthwhile this time.”

Mr Vincent said of the trips: “Our flights today and last week were all Wales fans so we’ve been a bit outnumbered, they’re OK, a good laugh, they’re on their best behaviour, at least for now.”

On his prediction for the Wales game, Mr Vincent said: “I hope to see an England win maybe 2-0, 3-0 will be great, as long as we don’t lose I’ll be happy.”

Alistair Banham, 67, from Buckinghamshire, added: “We got here knowing it’d be different to other World Cups and we adjusted to that and it has exceeded my expectations and it’s been really, really good – great fans, camaraderie, no trouble, you can find a beer, get to the grounds.”

Wales fan Steve Pope, 53, said he believed a 4-0 win was possible against England.

He told PA: “Everyone is being very friendly, but they’ve only had one pint so far.

“I think we could beat them 4-0 but I’ll take a 1-0.

“If we get a good result our plan is to hop on the Metro and have a good singalong and then party all night.

“If we don’t, it’ll be a case of jumping in an Uber and going back to the apartment to cry.”

FIFA World Cup 2022
Wales fans are looking for something to cheer after being left on the verge of elimination with their 2-0 loss to Iran (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Elsewhere, Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the UK’s football policing lead, told PA that there had been no arrests or incidents in the opening nine days of the tournament and praised England and Wales fans for their “exemplary” behaviour.

He said the lack of trouble at the Qatar World Cup, which he believed was in large part due to alcohol being less available, was a sign that ministers should resist calls to ease restrictions on drinking in UK football grounds.

It comes as police in Tenerife say they will launch a major security operation to prevent any possible violence during the England and Wales game.

Video footage emerged of a brawl outside bars on the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands on Friday evening, with people wearing England and Wales shirts involved.

UK police fear people prevented from travelling to Qatar for the World Cup may have been involved in the incident in Tenerife but added they have yet to confirm this.