The Group B of Euro 2016 which contains England, Russia, Slovakia and Wales is tougher than many may expect. Russia the only team in the group who had won a European Championship before, as Soviet Union in 1960. While Wales and Slovakia are making their first ever appearance have plenty of quality at their side, but this might still be England’s group to win.
After a disappointing World Cup in Brazil, England made a strong comeback by winning 10 out of 10 matches in their Euro qualifying campaign. They also become a strong unit that is hard for opponents to break down and kept clean sheets in 8 matches. They have played 6 friendlies thereafter and won 4, but the defeats to Spain and Netherlands must not be taken lightly.
England’s the attack look promising with the likes of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy and captain Rooney in support. The defense which includes Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and two Spurs full backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker will provide a tough time for the opposition attacks.
The selections for midfield could cost it for the Three Lions at France. Jack Wilshere missed majority of the season with injury, while Jordan Henderson is also fresh from a serious injury. And the likes of Raheem Sterling, James Milner and Ross Barkley had ordinary seasons with their respective clubs. But the omission of Danny Drinkwater raised many eyebrows, as many believe he should have got the nod ahead of Wilshere, Henderson and Milner.
England still remain the favourites to win the group, but they might have to deal with tough resistance from the other teams in the group. The Russians are pretty inconsistent in recent times, while one is unsure of what to expect from Wales. But Slovakia are a tough side and they are capable of mounting an upset, if not careful.
Group Prediction: 1st
Key Player: Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
Russia had won each of their last 4 matches in the qualification round to pip Sweden to finish second and gain automatic qualification to France. But their form since then had come under the scanner. The started off with a 1-0 win over Portugal, but lost to Croatia a few days later. After a 3-0 win against Lithuania in their next match, they fell to back-to-back defeats against France and Czech Republic in the next two friendlies, making it 3 losses in 4 games.
Head coach Leonid Slutsky has an experienced squad at his disposal, but things are not looking good on the pitch. An ageing defence is the main problem for the team, while their midfield is not helping to the cause. The attack is blunt without the presence of Zenit Saint Petersburg forward Aleksandr Kokorin.
Russia is expected to have a tough tournament in France. They might have been the pre-tournament favourites to finish second after England. But I don’t see it happening, they might even finish fourth after failing to win a single match in this group.
Group Prediction: 4th
Key Player: Aleksandr Kokorin (Zenit St. Petersburg)
Slovakia finished second in the qualifying group behind Spain to book their ticket to Euro 2016. They are on a fine run of form and haven’t lost in any of their 6 friendlies since then. They are also scoring in plenty and average 2.3 goals per game from their last 6 matches.
Jan Kozak managed side is well balanced in all departments with plenty of experience. Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel is the captain of the side and their most influential figure on the field. And Marek Hamsik, who is coming on the back of a fine season with Napoli will be key player for them in the tournament. At the same time, Slovakia are not a one man team by any means.
Slovakia are expected to be the surprise package in the Group B. They had done it before at World Cup 2010 by eliminating Italy in the final match of the group stage. And they will be definitely up to repeat the same in France and this is the team England should watch out in the group stage. For those who bet, tipping Slovakia to finish second in Group B offers excellent return for money.
Group Prediction: 2nd
Key Player: Marek Hamsik (Napoli)
The weakest team in Group B from outside, but this side tutored by Chris Coleman are no pushovers by any means. They are the dark horses in the group and on their day they can beat any team.
Gareth Bale will be the start attraction for Wales and scored 7 out of the 11 goals scored by Wales in the qualifying phase. And it is quite evident that they are completely dependent on him if they are to progress from this group. Swansea defender Ashley Williams and the Gunners midfielder Aaron Ramsey are other big names in the squad.
Wales are hardly expected to trouble anyone in the group, but they have a real chance against a struggling Russia. If they manage to scrap one win from this group, they might get to the knock out stages in their debut European Championship as one of the best third placed teams.
Group Prediction: 3rd
Key Player: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
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