With Euro 2016 less than two months away, fans, pundits and bookmakers alike will begin to look through what the group draw has thrown up and determine which teams can make it through to the knockout stages. Group B promises to throw up some intriguing games, with England matched up against Russia, Wales and Slovakia who all have the ability to cause problems when they are on their game. It remains to be seen who will come out on top when the pressure of tournament football begins, but as four of the six groups will see three teams progress based on the number of points they earn, there is enough incentive for those involved in Group B to have a real go at one another. Coral have backed England as the odds-on favourite to qualify from the group, but with the considerable disappointment of being knocked out at the same stage of the 2014 World Cup still fresh in the memory, Roy Hodgson’s side may not have things their own way.
It has been half a century since England famously lifted the World Cup in front of their euphoric home supporters at Wembley, and although they will enter Euro 2016 this summer with lowered expectations, there is every chance that Hodgson’s man will be one of the teams to beat. Impressive performances against France and Germany in recent international friendlies illustrated the level of talent that England have amongst their ranks, and when combined with players, such as Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, who are in superb form at domestic level, there is every reason for England to feel optimistic about their chances.
Ardent fans are likely to place a bet on England’s first match against Russia with Coral in the hope that the Three Lions can get off to the perfect start, with both teams meeting for the first time since 2007 when Russia came out on top with a 2-1 win during qualification for Euro 2008 – a tournament that England failed to qualify for under Steve McClaren. England certainly have enough quality to progress from Group B, but they cannot afford to become complacent against teams who will want to make a statement against one of the favourites to win Euro 2016.
England manager Roy Hodgson and Wales boss Chris Coleman welcomed the draw for Euro 2016 which put both home nations together in Group B. Wales and England meet in Lens on Thursday 16 June in the second of their three group games.
Replacing Fabio Capello with Leonid Slutsky, widely regarded as one of the best up-and-coming managers in Europe, proved to be a masterstroke for Russia, as the former CSKA Moscow manager led his country to four straight victories which saw them pip Sweden to second place behind run-away winners Austria in Group G. Russia have always been difficult to predict, with their preference to combine youthful exuberance with considerable experience failing to produce the impact on the pitch that many would expect. However, reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2008 is a sign of just how good Russia can be when they perform, with their recent 1-0 friendly win over Portugal also pointing towards a bright future under Slutsky. Aleksandr Golovin, Alan Dzagoev and Oleg Shatov will be players to look out for at Euro 2016, but their considerable lack of pace in defence could prove to be Russia’s downfall if their Group B opponents decide to play balls down the channels or over the top.
Regardless of what happens in France this summer, Wales can hold their heads up high and immerse themselves in the experience and glory of qualifying for their first ever European Championship. Chris Coleman has built on the excellent work which began under the late Gary Speed to lead Wales into Euro 2016, and while they only managed to score eleven goals in qualifying from Group B, it was their defensive record of just four conceded and ability to grind out results that earned Wales their spot. They will certainly fancy their chances of getting their Euro 2016 campaign off to the best possible start against Slovakia, but having faced similar teams, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Israel, in qualifying, Coleman will know that his team cannot take anything for granted against tricky opponents. Wales’ hopes unquestionably rest on the shoulders of Gareth Bale who could be worth backing with a Euro 2016 bet to finish top scorer if he shows his true class, while Aaron Ramsey and Ashley Williams will also play big roles in whether they are able to add another chapter to the fairytale story and progress to the knock-out stages.
Finishing runners-up in a qualifying group which contained Spain and Ukraine is proof, is needed, that Slovakia are not only participants at Euro 2016 on merit, but are also a team that should not be under-estimated. Slovakia, like Wales, are competing in their first ever European Championship, with manager Jan Kozak deserving of considerable praise for building a team that is difficult to beat and also carry a threat going forward. Their 2-1 home victory against Spain will go down as one of the best results in Slovakia’s history, with recent friendly wins against Switzerland and Iceland demonstrating that they can compete at the highest level. It would be dangerous to write off their chances of qualifying from Group B, with Marek Hamsik standing out as their star player who holds the key to their success this summer. Martin Skrtel, Miroslav Stoch and Vladimir Weiss are names that will be familiar to fans of the English Premier League, with all three likely to play supporting roles to Hamsik as they will look to make their appearance at Euro 2016 a memorable one.