Euro 2016 Previews: Group B

group b teams

It’s time to assess England‘s chances at Euro 2016 as I look ahead to Group B at the tournament, that also contains rivals Wales, who are playing in their first ever tournament. The attention, and perhaps the pressure, will be off Russia (winners of the first ever tournament) and Slovakia (also making their Euro debut), but both sides also go to France with high hopes.


Fixtures

  • Saturday 11th June: Wales vs Slovakia; Bordeaux; 5pm (BBC)
  • Saturday 11th June: England vs Russia; Marseille; 8pm (ITV)
  • Wednesday 15th June: Russia vs Slovakia; Lille; 2pm (BBC)
  • Thursday 16th June: England vs Wales; Lens; 2pm (BBC)
  • Monday 20th June: Slovakia vs England; Saint-Etienne; 8pm (ITV)
  • Monday 20th June: Russia vs Wales; Toulouse; 8pm (ITV)

England

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  • World Ranking: 11th
  • European Championships best: Semi-finals (1968 & 1996)
  • Previous European Championships played in: 8
  • Manager: Roy Hodgson
  • Captain: Wayne Rooney

How They Qualified

As England always do, very impressively. The Three Lions were the only country in the continent to win all 10 of their qualifying games to top Group E with a maximum 30 points. They conceded just three goals too, with the biggest wins of course coming against San Marino (5-0 and 6-0). It may have been an easy group, but an 100% record is no mean feat, and England are only the fifth side in European Championship history to achieve it.

Star Man – Harry Kane

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You’d think that with a perfect record in qualifying, Roy Hodgson would know most, if not all of his first choice starting XI. That is not the case, but one name certainly on the team sheet is Harry Kane. Few people had heard of the striker 18 months ago before he burst on to the scene with Tottenham, and in 2015-16 he picked up the Premier League golden boot with 25 goals and earned himself a spot in the PFA Team of the Season. The 22 year old scored within 80 seconds of England debut in March 2015, and has gone on to net five goals in 12 caps. With Kane upfront, England boast one of the hottest finishers in Europe, but can he do it on the biggest stage? There’s a lot of pressure on the shoulders of a man with no previous major tournament experience.

My Prediction

I’m usually a very pessimistic England fan. But for once, I’m being positive as I think this is the strongest Three Lions squad in a number of years. Filled with youthful exuberance, if we don’t top Group B then there is something seriously wrong. My only worry is the leaky defence, but with an attack containing the inform Kane, Jamie Vardy and Dele Alli, I think the quarter-finals is the minimum requirement. There is definitely potential for us to further, but we’re probably not good enough to win the whole tournament. Semi-finals


Russia

CREDIT: AFP/Getty Images
CREDIT: AFP/Getty Images
  • World Ranking: 27th
  • European Championships best: Winners (1960)
  • Previous European Championships played in: 10
  • Manager: Leonid Slutsky
  • Captain: Roman Shirokov

How They Qualified

After defeating Liechtenstein 4-0 in their first Group G game, Russia picked up just one more win in their next five matches (by default against Montenegro) which led to the sacking of Fabio Capello. In came Leonid Slutsky, who guided the team to four straight victories, meaning Russia finished second in their group behind Austria.

Star Man – Artem Dzyuba

CREDIT: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
CREDIT: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

After not making the cut for Euro 2012 or the 2014 World Cup, Artem Dzyuba has finally been included in the Russia squad for a major tournament. It’s thoroughly deserved too, as the striker netted 23 goals in all competitions for Zenit St Petersburg in 2015-16, including six goals in six Champions League games. Along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the 27 year old topped the scoring charts in Group G qualifying with eight goals, including four in one game against Liechtenstein. Often compared to the Swede, Dzyuba is a strong target-man standing at 6ft 5in and is likely to lead the line for Russia by himself at the tournament. It’s a tough task, but if I were Chris Smalling, I wouldn’t be looking forward to coming up against Dzyuba.

My Prediction

Russia certainly have every chance of getting out of this group as there is genuine quality in the team with Dzyuba along with play-making captain Roman Shirokov. However, they could be hit hard by the absence of Alan Dzagoev, who has been ruled out of the tournament through injury. Potentially could finish second, but I’m going to put Russia in third, and they should just about do enough to make the cut for the knockout stage but go no further than that. Round of 16


Wales

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  • World Ranking: 26th
  • European Championships best: N/A (this is their first tournament)
  • Previous European Championships played in: 0
  • Manager: Chris Coleman
  • Captain: Ashley Williams

How They Qualified

With a defeat. Sounds strange, but Wales actually celebrated their first ever qualification for the European Championships after a 2-0 defeat to Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was because Israel had also lost, to Cyprus, meaning no one could catch Wales in the automatic spots in Group B. That game was in fact Chris Coleman’s team’s only defeat in qualifying, with the high point being a 1-0 win over the highest ranking country in the world and eventual group winners Belgium.

Star Man – Gareth Bale

CREDIT: Getty Images
CREDIT: Getty Images

I hate to label Wales a one man team, but their chances at Euro 2016 are based heavily on the performance of Gareth Bale. He’s the world’s most expensive player, and comes into the tournament following a season at Real Madrid when he got 20 goals, 13 assists and came away with his second Champions League winners medal in the space of three years. The fact that the 26 year old contributed to 10 of Wales’ 11 goals in qualifying (seven goals, three assists) can’t be ignored. He is pivotal. Bale has a rocket of a left foot, especially powerful from free-kicks, can cut inside on his right, and is also good in the air. He’s basically the complete player and will be one of the best on show in France – but how long will he be there?

My Prediction

I want to see the home nations do well, so I’m going to predict Wales to finish second in this group, but it does all depend on how Gareth Bale performs, whether their fans like it or not. The final game against Russia will be crucial, as it will probably prove to be a winner takes all clash for qualification to the knockout stage. If Wales do make it, in second or third, it’s unlikely they’ll go much further as bigger fish await – and Bale can’t do it all on his own. Round of 16


Slovakia

CREDIT: Getty Images
CREDIT: Getty Images
  • World Ranking: 24
  • European Championships best: N/A (this is their first tournament)
  • Previous European Championships played in: 0
  • Manager: Jan Kozak
  • Captain: Martin Skrtel

How They Qualified

Slovakia absolutely stormed out of the blocks in Group C, winning all six of their first matches, including against reigning champions Spain. They then began to stumble, losing two and drawing one of their next three matches before beating Luxembourg 4-2 in their final game of the campaign to secure their first ever qualification in second place behind the Spanish.

Star Man – Marek Hamsik

CREDIT: JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)
CREDIT: JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Perhaps not to quite the same extent, but Marek Hamsik is essentially Wales’ Bale. The Napoli skipper is his country’s go to man with his vision and creativity, making him the one true star of the Slovakia side. Playing in an attacking midfield role, Hamsik scored five goals in qualifying, topping the Group C scoring charts alongside Spain’s Paco Alcacer. The 28 year old has been at Napoli since 2007 and is third in their all-time appearance list (he’s second with Slovakia), but I’m surprised one of Europe’s giants hasn’t picked him up. Rarely injured, he consistently performs at the top level, and netted six goals and got 11 assists in Serie A in 2015-16 – a tally only bettered by Miralem Pjanic and Paul Pogba.

My Prediction

On their day, Slovakia have shown they could beat anyone – defeating Spain in qualifying and Germany in a friendly only last week. However, I perhaps wouldn’t be too optimistic. There’s no out and out goalscorer in the side, whilst their defence is ageing and getting slower. They might not finish the group pointless, but I think Slovakia are unlikely to get through to the knockout stage and may even finish bottom. Group stages


Predicted Table

  1. England
  2. Wales
  3. Russia
  4. Slovakia
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