Every day, we’ll preview a Euro 2016 group. Today, we look at Group B, which contains England, Russia, Wales and Slovakia…
As usual, English expectations are high ahead of a major tournament. The Three Lions won all 10 of their qualifiers, and are the clear favourites in Group B.
Roy Hodgson has chosen for a young, attacking squad, picking five strikers and just three recognisable centre halves (although Eric Dier began his career there).
Joe Hart will start in goals, and Clyne, Smalling, Cahill and Rose seems the most likely back four. Competition will be stiff in midfield, and the England boss faces a selection headache up front.
Harry Kane looks sure to start, which means that Sturridge, Vardy, Rooney and Rashford will all be battling to partner the Spurs striker up top. There’s a chance that Hodgson will opt for a diamond midfield, with either Rooney or Alli behind Kane, or a more dynamic 4-3-3 formation.
Wayne Rooney’s indifferent form poses a problem for Hodgson, and the Man United midfielder is likely to be deployed in the number 10 position if selected
Players like Vardy, Lallana, Rooney, Sterling and Alli can adapt to several different formations, and this versatility and attacking fluidity could give England a crucial edge.
Whether or not England can mount a serious challenge to be champions is debatable, but this could be a perfect platform for players like Kane, Alli and Vardy to announce themselves on a world stage, and they should qualify from this group comfortably.
One to watch:
Harry Kane. The 23 year old is in wonderful form, and finished the 15/16 season as the Premier League’s top scorer. Euro 2016 gives him a chance to prove his class on the international stage. His goals could be the difference for England.
Russia finished second in their qualifying group, 8 points behind leaders Austria, who beat them twice. Their indifferent start to the qualifiers saw former England boss Fabio Capello sacked after just 6 games.
Leonid Slutsky replaced the Italian, and Russia have certainly improved since.
They boast a tight, experienced defence, and conceded just one goal in the qualifiers after Capello’s sacking. They possess an ageing squad, and every player bar one plies his trade in the underwhelming Russian league.
Capollo’s replacement Slutsky favours a 4-2-3-1 formation, and the Russians will rely on attacking players like Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Artyom Dzyuba and Aleksandr Kokorin to provide their firepower.
Key midfielder Alan Dzagoev suffered an injury which has ruled him out of the tournament, and Slutsky does not seem to favour highly rated midfielder Roman Shirokov. Igor Denisov is also out of form, so central midfield could be an issue for the Russians.
The Russians are sure to be solid defensively, but will need to produce an upset to finish in the top two. However, a third place finish could see them into the knockout stages.
One to watch:
Aleksandr Kokorin. It was a toss up between Kokorin and Dyzuba, but I’ve opted for the former. The 25 year old attacker can play up front or out wide, and his pace and finishing ability will be central to any Russian success. His manager will be hoping he shows no signs of rustiness after an injury-ridden season for Zenit.
Euro 2016 marks the first time Wales have qualified for the European Championships.
Chris Coleman deserves immense credit for turning the nation into a competitive side. Wales finished second behind Belgium in their qualification group, who they managed to beat 1-0 in Cardiff.
Wales are ranked 26th in the world, two places behind Slovakia, who they’ll face in their Group B opener.
Chris Coleman has a strong squad at his disposal. Ashley Williams is a rock at the back, and industrious midfielders like Joe Allen and Joe Ledley allow creative players like Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale to inflict damage further up the pitch.
Despite their inexperience at major tournaments, Wales will fancy their chances to clinch qualification from this group. They will relish the opportunity to face their English rivals, and players such as Ramsay and Bale could be the difference against Slovakia or Russia.
One to watch:
Gareth Bale. Bale is probably the only world class player in the squad, and Welsh fans will be hoping the Real Madrid star can produce some magic to help his country better England.
Jan Kozak has drastically improved Slovakia since taking over in 2013. His side finished second in the qualifiers behind Spain, who they’ve beaten (along with Germany) in recent months.
Slovakia like keep it tight and counter attack, and Kozak usually favours a 4-2-3-1 formation. The team is full of willing runners, and boasts plenty of experience, with Martin Skrtel at centre-back and Marek Hamsik in midfield.
Goals could be a problem, and Slovakia will rely heavily on striker Michal Duris to fire them out of the group. The recent form of Slovakia’s defenders is also a worry, and key defender Martin Skrtel endured a torrid season at Liverpool.
However, if they can create a solid defence, they will be be a threat on the break with the pace of Weiss and Mak. Slovakia tend to perform best when they are the underdogs, and often struggle to break lesser opposition down. This could give them the edge against England, whom the will look to frustrate and catch on the counter.
One to watch:
Marek Hamsik. The 28 year old midfielder, who plays at Napoli, scored 5 goals in the qualifiers, and is easily Slovakia’s best player. He will most likely operate in the number ten role, and his creativity will be Slovakia’s biggest asset.
England will just about win this group, but the won’t win the competition. There isn’t much between the other three teams, and the opener between Wales and Slovakia will be crucial. I think Wales will finish third, behind Slovakia.
*Odds via PaddyPower