Euro 2016 Preview - Group B: England, Russia, Slovakia, Wales
A look at the four teams in Group B who will be battling it out for Euro glory.
With Euro 2016 less than a week away, we continue our preview of the latest edition of the quadrennial tournament by taking a close look at Group B. The group features England, Slovakia, Russia and Wales. The Battle of Britain, the match between England and Wales, should be the highlight of the group.
The erstwhile Soviet Union used to be a force in the early editions of the tournament. The Soviet Union lifted the trophy in 1960 and were runners-up thrice. Russia, however, have distinctly failed to live up the standards of Soviet Union days, and it’s hard to see that changing in the latest instalment of the competition.
Slovakia and Wales are making their debut in the competition and will look to make the most of it. England have never reached the final, and two semi-final appearances in 1968 and 1996 are the best they can boast of.
Group B – England, Russia, Slovakia, Wales
The Premier League is one of the most popular, if not the most popular and widely followed league around the world, and there is always a lot of interest among fans to see how England fare in major competitions.
England go into the tournament with perhaps the most lethal strike partnership of all. Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane lit up the Premier League and if they can do the same at Euro 2016, then England should enjoy a good run in the tournament.
Faced with the enviable task of stopping the English duo are the defences of Russia, Slovakia and Wales. Russia just about limped through to the Euros after a tough qualification campaign, which saw noted manager Fabio Capello sacked midway.
Slovakia will look to their talismanic midfielder Marek Hamsik, who enjoyed a prolific run in the qualifying rounds, to continue his form and lead the way for others.
Wales boast of global superstar Gareth Bale in their ranks who with his speed and dribbling skills will trouble all defenders. Additionally, Wales boast of a very healthy midfield and tough defenders, and they seem to have enough strength and quality in their ranks to qualify for the knockout rounds, alongside England.
Group B of the Euro 2016 will get underway on June 11, with Wales taking on Slovakia, followed by England battling Russia on the same day.
Here is a more in-depth look at the teams in Group B.
England have perennially disappointed their fans in global tournaments and will be looking to make amends by making a run deep into the tournament. The good news for their fans is that England definitely have the strikers to do so.
Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane are potentially the most lethal striker partnership that any team possesses in the tournament and we have not even gotten to England’s record goalscorer and so often their talisman Wayne Rooney.
However, the reluctance of their manager Roy Hodgson to play a formation which features 2 strikers, so that both Vardy and Kane can play together up top could come in the way of the side making the full use of the talent they possess.
In defence England have a reliable group of well-known players, albeit no superstars. The defence doesn’t have the experience of playing in a major tournament which could be their undoing in the latter rounds.
England will hope that the midfield pairing of Tottenham’s Delle Ali and Eric Dier continue their excellent club form. Roy Hodgson also raised a few eyebrows when he named Jack Wilshere in the squad who spent most of the season on the injury table and England fans will hope that the gamble pays off.
While England’s reluctance to use Kane and Vardy as a strike partnership and their young defence should not come in the way of them finishing top of the group but those issues could get in the way of England going all the way in the tournament.
Russia come into the tournament with a defence well past its sell by date. Sergei Ignashevich (36) and Aleksei Berezutski (33) form the core of the Russian defence, and any attacker who possesses pace will trouble them. Injury to star midfielder Alan Dzagoev, which will cause him to miss the tournament, is a huge blow to Russia.
All is not doom and gloom for Russia though and Schalke midfielder Roman Neustädter should give Russia an element of control during matches. Striker Artem Dzyuba comes into the tournament on the back of some fine goalscoring form.
However the overall quality is absent and its hard to see Russia any real impact in the tournament. Russia should finish bottom of the group, and only have an outside chance of finishing 3rd. It would be a surprise if Russia finish any higher than 3rd.
Slovakia possess a good mix of experience and youth and the squad has a dash of quality in all areas. The star man for Slovakia is Napoli’s creative force in midfield, Marek Hamsik. Manager Jan Kozak has deployed him in a free role and it has really brought out the best in the midfielder, who played a starring role in Slovakia’s qualifying phase.
Experienced Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel will be key in defence and his wealth of experience at the top level will come in handy. Slovakia beat Spain in the qualification rounds and will draw on the experience as they take on this new challenge.
Slovakia should finish 3rd in the group ahead of Russia, they will hope to have done enough to qualify for the knockout stages through the best four 3rd placed teams route.
In Gareth Bale, Wales possess one of the biggest global football Icons and they will be hoping that he can carry the team on his shoulders into the knockout rounds and beyond. Sadly for Wales, no player in their squad really comes close to Bale’s level.
Even so Wales have plenty to be positive about going into the tournament. The Welsh squad has plenty of experienced English Premier League player who are regulars for their respective clubs.
James Chester, James Collins, Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor are all battle hardened experienced premier league defenders, and that experience should allow them to deal with most of what the attackers in this group throw at them. Should they get into the knockout rounds, then it’s a different story and they will find things a lot tougher. For this group though, they seem to have enough steel defensively.
The midfield trio of Liverpool’s Joe Allen, Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey should supplement star man Gareth Bale well, and in Joe Ledley Wales have a reliable general in the midfield. Sam Vokes is a handy finisher and overall Wales seem to possess enough quality to finish 2nd in the group behind England and qualify for the knockout rounds.
Conclusion – England have the most skilled squad in the group and anything besides finishing top of the group will be considered a disappointment. Wales and Slovakia will fight it out for the second guaranteed knockout round ticket, and Wales should edge out Slovakia in this contest. Russia will most likely be reduced to playing the role of a banana skin which the other three teams in the group will try to avoid slipping on.