EURO 2016, Group B: Pace, England’s ace!

England won all 10 of its qualification matches and is the favourite to top its group.

Harry Kane (left) and Jamie Vardy... England's force upfront.   -  Reuters

Group B: England, Russia, Slovakia and Wales

England will go into this group as outright favourite, despite its poor record in the tournament. The team, however, had a fantastic qualification, winning all 10 matches.

One look at Roy Hodgson’s final 23-man squad and it is obvious that the unit is bursting at the seams with youthful pace. All eyes will be on the likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Jamie Vardy, who all go into the tournament on the back of a successful Premier League campaign.

The Three Lions’ forte, without a doubt, will be their attack and the four names mentioned above will be the fulcrum. Hodgson mentioned that he would either deploy a 4-3-3 or a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation with Kane and Vardy, who had 49 goals between them in the EPL, playing up top.

The side is led by England record goal-scorer Wayne Rooney, and the talisman will be expected to play in the middle of the park. He will have Jack Wilshere and Eric Dier for company at the base of the midfield.

In defence, England will ideally go with the centre-back pairing of Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill, with Dany Rose and Nathaniel Clyne on the flanks. If there is an area of concern for England, it could be the defence; Smalling and Cahill can be prone to the occasional gaffe. However, the two men can use their height to their advantage during set-pieces on either end of the field. Interestingly enough, Hodgson has gone in with only three specialist centre-backs although Eric Dier can be used as a last resort.

Between the sticks, England has a world-class keeper in Joe Hart with Tom Heaton and Fraser Forster in reserve.

The surprise package in the squad is Manchester United teenager Marcus Rashford. His late cameo in the Premier League, courtesy an injury crisis for the Red Devils in February, has merited his inclusion in the team. He scored twice on his full debut against Midtjylland in the Europa League and ended the campaign with seven goals in 16 club games. His hot-streak continued as he became England’s youngest debutant when he scored, within three minutes, in the pre-Euro 2016 friendly against Australia.

Russia

The team had a disastrous start to the qualification under Fabio Capello, taking eight points from its first six games. CSKA Moscow’s Leonid Slutsky took over and his 4-2-3-1 — and man-management — suited the players much better. He helped the team grab 12 points from the last four games to sneak into the finals.

Russia is led by Sergei Ignashevich and the team kept five clean sheets in the nine games he played in qualification. The 36-year-old has made 115 appearances for the national team and the defender will be the key in keeping a tight line at the back.

Just like England, there is speed on the flanks and the options up front — Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Artyom Dzyuba and Fyodor Smolov — have all been in good form. The team unfortunately will be missing the services of Alan Dzagoev, who is a major source of creativity for the side and that could be the difference when it comes to progressing to the round of 16.

Slovakia

This is the team’s second international tournament since it got independence in 1993 and might be favourite to finish bottom of the group. However, it had a decent qualification and managed to beat champion Spain 2-1. Its opponents will have to contend with Marek Hamsik, who is clearly the key man for the Slovaks. He had a great season for Napoli, equalling Maradona’s record of 81 league goals for the Naples side, and the attacking midfielder scored five in qualifying.

Wales

England’s nemesis rounds off Group B. Considered one of the dark horses of the tournament, the side has been led magnificently by Ashley Williams, conceding only four goals in qualification.

On the other end of the pitch, Wales will be looking up to Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, who contributed to nine of the 11 goals the side scored in qualification. Bale, who recently won his second Champions League in three seasons for Real Madrid, scored seven in qualification and is the main reason why Wales is in EURO 2016. This over-reliance on the duo could be a problem when, and not if, Wales goes into the deeper end of the tournament.

The squads

ENGLAND:

Goalkeepers: Fraser Forster, Joe Hart and Tom Heaton.

Defenders: Ryan Bertrand, Gary Cahill, Nathaniel Clyne, Danny Rose, Chris Smalling, John Stones and Kyle Walker.

Midfielders: Dele Alli, Ross Barkley, Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, James Milner, Raheem Sterling and Jack Wilshere.

Forwards: Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy.

RUSSIA:

Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev, Yuri Lodygin and Guilherme.

Defenders: Aleksei Berezutski, Vasili Berezutski, Sergei Ignashevich, Dmitri Kombarov, Roman Neustadter, Georgi Schennikov, Roman Shishkin and Igor Smolnikov.

Midfielders: Igor Denisov, Dmitri Torbinski, Aleksandr Golovin, Denis Glushakov, Oleg Ivanov, Pavel Mamaev, Aleksandr Samedov, Oleg Shatov and Roman Shirokov.

Forwards: Artem Dzyuba, Aleksandr Kokorin and Fedor Smolov.

SLOVAKIA:

Goalkeepers: Matus Kozacik, Jan Mucha and Jan Novota.

Defenders: Peter Pekarik, Milan Skriniar, Martin Skrtel, Norbert Gyomber, Jan Durica, Kornel Salata, Tomas Hubocan and Dusan Svento.

Midfielders: Viktor Pecovsky, Robert Mak, Juraj Kucka, Patrik Hrosovsky, Jan Gregus, Marek Hamsik, Ondrej Duda, Miroslav Stoch and Vladimir Weiss.

Forwards: Michal Duris, Adam Nemec and Stanislav Sestak.

WALES:

Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey, Daniel Ward, Owain and Fon Williams.

Defenders: Ashley Williams, James Chester, Ben Davies, James Collins, Chris Gunter, Neil Taylor and Jazz Richards.

Midfielders: Joe Ledley, Joe Allen, David Vaughan, Jonathan Williams, David Edwards, George Williams, Aaron Ramsey and Andy King.

Forwards: Gareth Bale, David Cotterill, Hal Robson-Kanu, Simon Church and Sam Vokes.

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