Russia coach Leonid Slutsky insists his side will not focus on Real Madrid “superstar” Gareth Bale and insists the Russians are favourites as they look to save their Euro 2016 campaign with a win in Toulouse Monday.
Bale has struck twice for Wales, in a 2-1 win over Slovakia and a 2-1 defeat to England that has left Chris Coleman’s men on the verge of a place in the last 16 on their European Championship debut.
The 26-year-old is still firing on all cylinders after helping Real Madrid to their 11th Champions League trophy in Milan last month.
But Slutsky said Russia will not try to man-mark Bale.
“It’s hard to man mark footballing superstars,” added Slutsky. “Gareth Bale likes to roam into different areas so we have to mark him zonally.”
A win for the Welsh, appearing in their first major finals since the 1958 World Cup, would secure their place in the knockout phase and even a draw could see them through.
Russia, however, have to beat the Welsh to avoid going home early and Slutsky believes his men, based on their results so far, merit the “favourites” tag leading up to the 1900 GMT kickoff.
“Wales lost to England, whereas we drew with England (1-1). So perhaps we’re the favourites,” Slutsky told media on Sunday.
Police in Toulouse are hoping to avoid a repeat of the violent clashes that marred the build-up to England’s opening Group B fixture with Russia in Marseille.
A relatively peaceful atmosphere reigned over ‘La Ville Rose’ (The Pink City), as Toulouse is known, on Sunday night when mainly Welsh fans mingled with locals.
Wales coach Coleman, meanwhile, remains wary of Russia’s “very good team”, despite Slutsky’s men following their last-gasp draw against England with a 2-1 defeat to Slovakia, a team that Wales beat 2-1.
“We know it’s a game they need to win, so we’re expecting a very tough game,” said Coleman.
“And to be fair to Russia, they got a point against England.”
– ‘Mindless bunch’ –
But he has called on fans of both sides to make the match one to remember — for footballing reasons alone, and not for the “mindless minority” who are bent on causing trouble.
“It’s always the minority, a mindless bunch,” who cause trouble, added Coleman.
“But most people who come to a football game watch it together, and that’s how it should be.
“When we played England there was a few English fans in with the Welsh supporters and they were saying how well they enjoyed the game, together.
“Any animosity, that remains on the pitch and that’s where it stops. Football’s to be enjoyed… they’re representing their country the same as we are.
“So far they (the Welsh fans) have done it fantastically well.”
Although three Russian fans were jailed for violent assaults on England fans and a further 20 were deported on Saturday, Slutsky insisted the controversy of the past week has not affected his team.
“I can’t necessarily say that events have influenced our preparation, or that our mind set has changed,” he added.
“We’re trying to focus and not be disturbed by things we can’t control.”