Russia came close to disaster under Fabio Capello, but a regime change has seen them become far more defensively robust, presenting England and Wales with a gruelling challenge in France. Roy Hodgson possesses one of the most gifted England teams in decades and, with national expectations lowered, should be able to top the group. Wales are well organised and passionate, balancing Premier League experience with the unstoppable force of Gareth Bale; they have the potential to be the Leicester City equivalent in June.
Hodgson’s management of the media has eased the pressure placed upon his side, but despite the unusual absence of expectation this is an immensely talented England side. Playing either in a narrow 4-4-2 diamond or fluid 4-3-3 England possess a crop of young, intelligent footballers that should be able to control these group matches.
The core of Spurs players gives England a cohesion that most other nations lack, whilst star players Joe Hart, Raheem Sterling, and Harry Kane can produce sudden moments of inspiration. They are backed up by a surprisingly robust and composed central midfield that consists of Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, and Dele Alli – as proved by recent impressive victories over Germany and France.
Their main weakness lies in central defence. Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill are both prone to the occasional error of judgement, whilst John Stones is perhaps too young to be trusted at this level. Gareth Bale will expect to find plenty of joy through the middle; it is here that England are most vulnerable.
Russia should not pose much of a problem, given that England have so many options from the bench, if their opponent’s deep-lying model frustrates the starting eleven. Jamie Vardy, Ross Barkley, and Adam Lallana will all come in handy in the group stages.
Chris Coleman has found the perfect formation to maximise his team’s limited talents, and in qualifying his side showed the kind of grit and determination reminiscent of Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City. They could go a long way in this competition.
Wales are capable of beating Russia and Slovakia and are even well set-up to cause a huge shock against group favourites England.
In the middle, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, and Andy King make for an outstanding trio of controlling midfielders capable of bullying almost any team in the tournament. Their tireless energy provides the foundation for Coleman’s deep-lying, counter-attacking diamond 4-4-2; up front, the hard work is done by Hal Robson-Kanu (who chases down long balls into the channels like Jamie Vardy at Leicester) and Gareth Bale, who plays in a free role.
Bale seems to find another level entirely in a Wales shirt, and with a history of scoring goals in cup finals there is no doubt that he has the mentality to lead from the front at a major tournament. Wales should be capable of beating Russia and Slovakia, and are even well set-up to sit back, absorb pressure and cause a huge shock against group favourites England.
Wales to reach the semi-finals: 14.39*
Other than their famous semi-final appearance in Euro 2008, Russia have never qualified through the group stages of a major tournament, but Leonid Slutsky has put together a strong team that should squeeze into the second round.
Russia amassed just eight points from their first six qualifying games under Fabio Capello, but since his dismissal won all of their remaining four to qualify comfortably. This side is certainly not as strong as the 2008 squad that boasted the likes of Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko, but there is a defensive resilience to Russia (they conceded only five goals in qualifying) that should make them tricky opponents.
Their star player is Alan Dzagoev, whom Slutsky managed successfully whilst at CSKA Moscow. The head coach’s experience in Russia has certainly helped the national team become such a coherent unit under his tutelage, especially since virtually every player in the squad plays their soccer domestically. It would be a surprise if they did not manage to qualify as one of the best ranked third-placed teams.
Russia to advance from Group B: 1.377*
Slovakia enjoyed an outstanding qualifying campaign, finishing above Ukraine thanks largely to their miraculous 2-1 victory over Spain in October 2014. However, they are certainly the least likely team to qualify from Group B and will be fortunate to earn points from any of their three games.
Martin Skrtel’s defensive leadership is unlikely to prevent both England and Wales from scoring, whilst the nation’s hopes rest squarely on the shoulders of Napoli playmaker Marek Hamsik.
Slovakia to get under 3.5 points in Group B: 1.55*
Group B: What to look out for
England’s opening match with Russia is likely to shape this group, since a victory for the favourites would put Wales in a strong position to qualify in second. The eagerly anticipated match between England and Wales on June 16 should decide which nation tops the group, although safe passage for both – and Russia in third –is most likely.
Euro 2016 Group betting previews by Alex Keble
Odds to win the Euro 2016*
See the latest Euro 2016 odds, including Top Goal scorer, who will reach the semi-finals, over/under points and much more under the left-hand side menu Bet Options/Specials!
See the latest Euro 2016 odds, including Top Goal scorer, who will reach the semi-finals, over/under points and much more under the left-hand side menu Specials!
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