Euro 2016 Group B Preview

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Euro 2016 Group B Preview

When the groups were drawn in December for Euro 2016, many argued that it had been incredibly fortuitous for England. However, this is far from the case. It is true that they were fortunate to miss teams such as Italy and Poland, but their current group of Russia, Wales and Slovakia will be a tough challenge. Roy Hodgson’s men will face tough tasks in the shape of a resilient Wales with Gareth Bale, a revitalised Russia under Leonid Slutsky and a tricky Slovakia side with more talent than may be expected.

England:

England have one of the most talented and balanced squads at the tournament but it may be a tough ask to live up to the high expectations set after a fantastic qualifying campaign. The Three Lions will be desperate to have a good tournament after their abject performance in the World Cup two years ago. Attacking talent is in abundance for Roy Hodgson’s men and they will be hoping to harness this power.

Squad Analysis:

(26-man provisional squad—reduced to 23 at a later date)

Goalkeepers: Fraser Forster (Southampton), Joe Hart (Manchester City), Tom Heaton (Burnley)

Defenders: Ryan Betrand (Southampton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Danny Rose (Tottenham), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), John Stones (Everton), Kyle Walker (Tottenham)

Midfielders: Dele Alli (Tottenham), Ross Barkley (Everton), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Danny Drinkwater (Leicester), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), James Milner (Liverpool), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Andros Townsend (Newcastle), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal).

Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Jamie Vardy (Leicester)

England have a talented set of goalkeepers with Manchester City’s Joe Hart, Southampton’s Fraser Forster and recently promoted Burnley’s Tom Heaton. Hart will almost certainly be the starting keeper but Forster and Heaton are certainly reliable replacements.

It could be argued that England are weakest defensively and have lacked a world-class centre-back since John Terry retired from international football. However, the defence is still very strong with depth in the full-back position with Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand. Hodgson’s decision on whether to play the young John Stones will certainly be an intriguing one.

The midfield selection is the area of the squad that has caused the most controversy. Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Danny Drinkwater all had fantastic seasons at their respective clubs and their place in the squad was certainly deserved. However, it is the other eleven midfielders who have generated debate. The inclusions of Fabian Delph and Andros Townsend have angered some within the England support.

The decision to take Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere has caused some discontent due to the former’s recent form and the latter’s limited game time, but both players played important roles in reaching the tournament. Furthermore, the decision to not take West Ham’s Michail Antonio has sparked some displeasure.

Attacking-wise England are very strong. Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane, who both scored in a 2-1 win over Turkey on Sunday , are the most likely duo to lead the England attacking line after finishing the Premier League season on 25 and 24 goals respectively.

Perhaps the most intriguing question surrounding England is whether Wayne Rooney plays and where he plays on the pitch. Daniel Sturridge will bring good cover up-front and Marcus Rashford, despite being the favourite to be one of three dropped from the squad, might end a fairytale breakthrough season by going to the Euros. The omission of Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe also surprised a few who believed the 33-year-old should be taken to the competition after scoring fifteen Premier League goals to keep Sunderland from relegation.

Manager—Roy Hodgson:

It looks likely that Euro 2016 will be the 68-year-old’s final tournament in charge of England and he will certainly want to go out on a high. The former Fulham, Liverpool and West Brom manager’s tenure has encountered varied success as successful qualifying campaigns have been ruled out by poor performances on the big stage.

How they qualified:

Despite being brandished as “easy”, England’s qualifying campaign was immaculate, winning all ten of their matches—the only side to achieve this. Two 2-0 victories over second placed Switzerland helped England dominate their group. This was the first time England have won all their qualifying games since 1990.

Russia:

Squad Analysis:

Russia’s squad is yet to be announced, but it is likely to contain many players capable of making a serious impact. Artyom Dzyuba poses a serious goal-scoring threat and the striker found the net eight times in qualifying. Zurich’s Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Zenit St. Petersburg’s Aleksandr Kokorin also provide attacking prowess. In addition, Sergei Ignashevich, Igor Akinfeev and Yuri Zhirkov all provide masses of international experience.

Manager—Leonid Slutsky:

Leonid Slutsky performed a miracle to help Russia seal second place in the last four games of their group ahead of Sweden after a shaky start to their qualifying campaign. The 45-year old’s footballing career was tragically ended aged 19 after injuring his knee attempting to save a cat stuck in a tree, but as a manager he has taken many plaudits in Moscow, especially at CSKA Moskva, where he has won nine trophies since 2011.

How they qualified:

Russia began qualifying with a comfortable 4-0 win over Liechtenstein. However, performances became much more questionable under former England manager Fabio Capello, after a 1-0 defeat to an impressive Austria and two 1-1 draws with Sweden and minnows Moldova.

Capello’s side were gifted a default 3-0 win against Montenegro after fan violence, but a 1-0 loss at home to Austria saw the end of his tenure as manager as they looked destined for a third-place finish. However, the appointment of Slutsky turned out to be a stroke of genius. The 44-year-old led Russia to four consecutive wins including a vital 1-0 win over Sweden and a 7-0 hammering of Liechtenstein. Russia sealed second place with a 2-0 win over Montenegro.

Wales

Chris Coleman’s side heroically secured their first appearance in a major tournament since 1958, finishing just two points behind the highly-rated Belgium. A fantastic qualifying campaign that included a nine-game unbeaten streak and taking four points off that first-placed side displayed that they are a force to be reckoned with.

Squad Analysis:

(Provisional 29-man squad—excluding Gareth Bale until after Champions League final)

Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace), Danny Ward (Liverpool), Owain Fon Williams (Inverness)

Defenders: Ben Davies (Tottenham), Neil Taylor (Swansea), Chris Gunter (Reading), Ashley Williams (Swansea), James Chester (West Brom), Ashley Richards (Fulham), Paul Dummett (Newcastle), Adam Henley (Blackburn), Adam Matthews (Sunderland), James Collins (West Ham)

Midfielders: Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Joe Ledley (Crystal Palace), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), Joe Allen (Liverpool), David Cotterill (Birmingham), Jonathan Williams (Crystal Palace), George Williams (Fulham), Andy King (Leicester), Emyr Huws (Wigan), Dave Edwards (Wolves)

Forwards: Hal Robson-Kanu (Reading), Sam Vokes (Burnley), Tom Bradshaw (Walsall), Tom Lawrence (Leicester), Simon Church (Nottingham Forest), Wes Burns (Walsall)

Many see Wales as a one-man team in Gareth Bale, but their campaign showed that the side are far from this. Swansea captain Ashley Williams performed well and led a stubborn and resilient defence; Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey put in exceptional performances and Reading’s Hal Robson-Kanu played an important part in the team’s success, as well as Joe Allen and Andy King who had good seasons at their respective clubs.

However, the Real Madrid forward’s influence cannot be underestimated as he earned more points for his nation than any other player in European Qualifying with his goals. The side are the highest-rated of England’s opponents in the FIFA World Rankings, sitting in 24th place.

A big worry for Chris Coleman’s side is that the squad has very little depth and the fact that the squad has to call-up a player from England’s third tier highlights this. Furthermore, the number of Championship players in the squad is very high.

Manager—Chris Coleman:

Coleman, who signed a two-year contract extension on Monday, is an experienced player and manager, but some argue that his lack of experience in international tournaments could be a problem. The 45-year-old took over as manager after the tragic suicide of Welsh legend and close friend Gary Speed.

He almost left his post after a tumultuous start to his tenure after becoming the first Wales manager to lose his opening five but opted to stay in the role. Wales disappointed in their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign but the country’s fortune was to change dramatically under Coleman’s leadership. The Swansea-born manager took many deserved plaudits for leading his country in their first successful qualifying campaign in years and will certainly relish the opportunity to lead his country in France.

How they qualified:

Chris Coleman’s side heroically secured their first appearance in a major tournament since 1958, finishing just two points behind the highly-rated Belgium. A fantastic qualifying campaign that included a nine-game unbeaten streak and taking four points off Belgium displayed that they are a force to be reckoned with. However, a defeat in Bosnia ensured that the qualifying campaign ended on a disappointing note.

Slovakia:

Jan Kozak’s side were definitely one of the surprise packages in qualifying as they finished second to Spain. Slovakia’s international experience is sparse but they have proven quality in their side with captain and talisman Marek Hamsik, as well as solid defenders in Hertha’s Peter Pekarík and Martin Skrtel. The Liverpool centre-back has been criticised recently but still has the ability to make a difference for the team.

Squad Analysis:

Slovakia are also yet to name their squad but key players include Napoli’s Marek Hamsik who scored five times in qualifying and captain Martin Skrtel who, despite poor form for Liverpool, has the potential to be a key figure.

Manager—Jan Kozak:

Kozak, like Coleman, has little international experience in management with the majority of his managerial career being involved in his home country. However, as a player, Kozak will have fond memories of the 1980 European Championship as he helped Czechoslovakia to a third place finish after beating Italy in the third place play-off.

How they qualified:

Slovakia were definitely one of the surprise packages in qualifying as they finished second to Spain. They started their qualifying campaign with two impressive victories—a 1-0 win in Kiev, followed by a 2-1 win over Spain in Bratislava. These victories were followed by a further four successive victories as they cemented their position at the top of the group. However, a credible 2-0 defeat in Spain saw La Furia Roja overtake them.

Two disappointing results followed with a goalless draw at home to Ukraine and a 1-0 defeat at home to Belarus. Despite this, their campaign ended on a positive note with a 4-2 win in Luxembourg. This ensured their first ever appearance in the European Championship.