Russia take on Wales tonight in what is a must-win fixture for them. Victory for the Russians would see them through in all probability, as one of the 4 best 3rd position teams. A draw in their opening match against England raised Russian hopes, which were subsequently dashed by defeat to a Marek Hamsik inspired Slovakia.
To compound matters, Russia may be eliminated from Euro 2016 irrespective of the result tonight, as they are under a suspended ban from the tournament, thanks to violence incited by their fans.
Wales are in a far more comfortable situation compared to Russia. Victory against Slovakia on opening day gave them crucial 3 points, and a draw today will almost guarantee progression to the next round irrespective of the result between England and Slovakia.
Here we take a look at 5 players who shall have a significant impact on the result in tonight’s encounter.
#1 Gareth Bale
The one player everyone will surely have their eyes on, Gareth Bale is the catalyst behind every attacking move Wales generally make. The world’s most expensive player has got off to a flying start in Euro 2016, scoring 2 goals in 2 games for the Welsh, with both the goals coming courtesy of free kicks. Forget Messi or Ronaldo, if indeed there is a one man army type of team today in the world, it is Wales led by Gareth Bale.
In the opening match against Slovakia, Bale produced a moment of magic from a free kick which gave Wales the lead. Whenever Slovakia were dominating the game, Wales were dragged back into the match by Bale’s runs on the counter-attack. Indeed, were it not for their profligate finishing, Wales would have ended the match with a more comfortable margin of victory.
Bale led Wales to their first major tournament in over half a century with a stellar show during qualifying, and he will hope to carry on that form to ensure Wales at least make it to the last 16. Bale possesses phenomenal speed and a bombastic shot which he often utilises to devastating effect and tonight, Russia will be praying for him to have an off day.
#2 Aaron Ramsey
Aaron Ramsey, along with Bale, had a hand in 9 of the 11 goals Wales scored during qualifying. The most creative midfielder amongst the Welsh ranks, Ramsey has distinctly underwhelmed in the opening 2 matches for the Welsh, despite recording an assist.
His performance against Slovakia was a bit of a hit and miss. While he did provide the assist for the winning goal, his tendency to dribble through the centre got him in trouble more often than not. Against England too, Ramsey had to weather flak from critics and fans alike, who felt he should have contributed more in terms of effort and creativity in the middle.
When at his best, Ramsey provides an attacking thrust through the centre of the pitch, which is the inception of swift and direct attacks that Chirs Coleman’s men rely on. Possessing a decent turn of pace and impressive ball control, Ramsey can orchestrate play in the opposition half with ease. Welsh fans will be hoping the Aaron Ramsey of qualifying, rather than the Ramsey of the first 2 Euro 2016 matches, turns up for this crucial final encounter.
#3 Joe Allen
A familiar face for Liverpool fans, Joe Allen’s eye for a pass in the middle of the field led him to be christened ‘the Welsh Xavi’. Although he has not touched the heights of the Spanish maestro yet, Allen has received praise for his showing in the first two matches of Euro 2016 for Wales.
The midfielder, in a recent press interview, said the determination to succeed at Euro 2016 stems from ‘13 years of hurt’. Allen was in the stands when Wales lost 1-0 in a Euro 2004 qualifying playoff to Russia. The 26-year-old who has 27 caps to his name and is yet to score a senior international goal.
With Bale and Ramsey bringing the flamboyance, Allen often flies under the radar but his contribution in the middle of the park is equally essential. He keeps the Wales team ticking with short nifty passes around the midfield, with the occasional long-ball to Bale or Ramsey to incite a counter-attack. Come tonight, Allen will be in the quest for his first senior international goal, and it will be all sweeter if it comes with the Wales’ ticket to the last 16.
#4 Vasili Berezutski
Vasili Berezutski has provided the best moment for Russia in Euro 2016 thus far. A 92nd minute equaliser for Russia against England, when all seemed lost, brought the best of the Russian captain to the fore. A born leader, Berezutski put in an inspired shift against England, making a number of crucial interceptions and blocks, often putting his body on the line, to ensure Russia were in with a shout as the game reached its end.
When Russia could not find a means to breach the well drilled English defence, a hit-and-hope punt into the box found the head of Berezutski, towering over the England defence. The Russian captain had secured a point for his side in an exemplary show of leadership.
Berezutski has been capped 97 times for his country, since making his debut in 2003, and has scored 5 goals. While goal scoring may not be his forte, defending certainly is, and Russian fans will be hoping Berezutski is at the top of his game again, tonight, in order to make it to the next round.
#5 Artem Dzyuba
Since this is a must-win fixture for the Russians, a lot will depend on their towering forward Artem Dzyuba. Standing at 1.96 metres tall, Dzyuba is one of the tallest players featuring at Euro 2016. The Zenit St. Petersburg forward, is know to use his height and physique to good effect and is excellent at holding the ball up. Often, when the Russian midfield is devoid of inspiration, they resort to long passes to Dzyuba, which has been an effective attacking outlet.
While his displays at Euro 2016 have been enterprising, Dzyuba is yet to find the back of the net. Dzyuba made his senior international debut in 2011 and has scored 9 goals in 20 appearances. 8 of those 9 goals came during Euro 2016 qualifying, making a crucial factor to Russia’s planning going forward.
A regular fixture up front since Leonid Slutski’s appointment as coach of Russia, Dzyuba will be hoping to add to the 9 goals he has scored for Russia. With Dzyuba as the focal point of their attack, Russia can hope for some joy from set-pieces and decently directed crosses into the box.