By Niall Clarke
- Euro 2016 Group B preview and predictions
- England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia
Home interest will be ripe in Group B as England and Wales fly the British flag in hope of reaching the knockout stages.
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There is always an air of excitement surrounding England before an international tournament, but this time it seems different. Recent years have seen England fail to make any sort of impact on the international scene, but with some fresh, new, and young faces now being at the forefront, England are contenders again, and with some style to boot.
The team has not only proved they can get results, they have shown that they can also entertain. This is perhaps the best England team to watch in decades and that is largely down to the fast paced attacking talent.
With the likes of Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, and Dele Alli joining the experience of Wayne Rooney up top, England have enough firepower to trouble the best sides. Joe Hart has been in good form and will lead the defence, but the lack of a recognised world class defender might be a pitfall. In fact, the Three Lions do not really boast a ‘star’ which could either work in their advantage or be a problem when the going gets tough.
The group stages will likely serve as an indication as to whether Roy Hodgson’s men have what it takes to go the distance. Good form in qualifying and friendlies is great but tournaments are a completely different animal. How will the players cope with the demands?
After hitting rock bottom a few years a go, the atmosphere surrounding Russian football is on the up under Leonid Slutsky. With the World Cup coming to their nation in two years’ time, Russia will be hoping to repeat their Euro 2008 run, but they will be have to be careful with their optimism.
Whilst full of good players, the problem for Slutsky is that there is no real star man to drawn on. Captain Roman Shirokov had a poor season for CSKA and Alan Dzagoev is out of the tournament with injury. With their two most creative and best players either injured or out of form, Russia may struggle to find attacking inspiration.
The team must work as a unit to stand a chance. They have plenty of experience in the back line to make them difficult to break down, and they are a solid unit across the pitch. Their renewed optimism might be their biggest weapon and could lead to qualification from the group.
It is a different time to be a Welsh fan. They are not in the tournament to make up the numbers, they are here to make an impact, and with Gareth Bale and more they may go on to have a solid run.
Whilst many of their fellow teams in Group B do not have a star player to draw to, Wales have often being accused of being the exact opposite. Many see them as ‘Bale and company’ or ‘Bale and the rest’, but it is the ‘supporting cast’ that makes this team dangerous. Yes, the Real Madrid man will be looked at as the main attacking threat, but there is really no such thing as a ‘one man team’. The Welsh have a collective spirit about them and feature very good players beside the obvious one.
However, whilst the notion that there is more than just Bale certainly rings true, but outside of him there is not much in way of a goal-scoring threat. Aaron Ramsey is capable of grabbing goals from midfield, but he is not someone to rely on in that department. An injury to a Bale or a Ramsey could spell trouble for Chris Coleman as they are the difference-makers in the side.
The British media may be more focused on England, but this Welsh side is certainly capable of a good run. If their star players are firing then qualification from the group is very much on the cards.
With some impressive results in recent times, including a 3-1 win over Germany, Slovakia are not to be underestimated and will surprise a few in Group B.
Under Jan Kozak’s management, Slovakia have come a long way and are a disciplined group of players. They are not only a good unit on the pitch, they are very humble in the media and will not play up their chances. Whether that is the right mentality to have remains to be seen, but there is an air of cautious optimism that they could make it to the knockout stages.
Slovakia will look to playmaker Marek Hamsik for inspiration. The 28-year-old has the ability to pick out a killer pass to unlock a defence as well as bag a goal or two himself. Hamsik was rated number 10 in a recent UEFA form ranking which shows he is in good stead heading into the tournament.
They are a good and well disciplined side at both ends of the pitch but Slovakia have often found goals hard to come by. If they find that desired finishing touch, they can certainly make it out of a tricky group.
It will be a surprise if England are not one of the two or potentially three teams that qualify from this group. The Three Lions are looking their best in years and should bring more entertainment to their campaign this time around. The second spot will be an interesting tussle as all three sides have a good shot at making it through. Wales however have that X Factor with Bale, and he could be the difference in the end.
1st– England, 2nd– Wales, 3rd– Slovakia, 4th– Russia
Euro 2016 takes place between June 10 & July 10
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