EURO 2016 Group B by DamirJ
Few days before the start of EURO 2016 in France, we will try to present overview of the national teams playing it, starting with the breakdown of the group "B" where the national teams of England, Russia, Wales and Slovakia will be playing. On the first sight, it might look that the English side is sure to progress, however there's no doubt that we are heading towards really interesting battle for the second qualifying position.
One of the sides with bright history, however they are having already known scenario for many years in recent time. Everything begins for them with dreams and really high ambitions, sometimes even being favorites to win the title, but more than often they end up struggling to reach the last stages of big competitions. Last time the team managed to get through to the later stages of big event was back in 1996 when they were hosts at EURO, losing in semifinals to Germany.
They had a great run this time in qualifying stages, not losing even a single point as the team had ten victories out of ten matches, ending their path with 31:3 goal difference. Of course, English side didn't have a very tough competition, however Switzerland is surely considered to be top level opponent, while opponents like Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino didn't raise many concern. In any way, 31 goal scored and only 3 goals conceded can't be ignored after ten competitive matches played.
The side had three friendly matches as a preparation for EURO, winning all three: against Turkey 2:1, Australia 2:1 and Portugal 1:0 in the most recent game, showing relatively good image.
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Fraser Forster (Southampton), Tom Heaton (Burnley)
Defenders: Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), John Stones (Everton), Kyle Walker (Tottenham), Danny Rose (Tottenham), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton)
Midfielders: Eric Dier (Tottenham), James Milner (Liverpool), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), Dele Alli (Tottenham), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Ross Barkley (Everton), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Forwards: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Harry Kane (Tottenham).
Their qualifying path leaves a lot of space for optimism as for the English side, as well as their recent friendly matches. The nation has been waiting for years to see their football team achieving something positive in the final major event. Their thirst for success might be a key role for a team that surely has plenty of talented players, especially in the midfield section. On the other way, there is always great pressure when speaking about English football side and that might be a negative side since the roster has many players of a younger age.
Manager Hodgson decided to go with the flow, invited five players from Tottenham that had a really good season, as the Spurs remain the team with the most players in English side together with Liverpool.
Joe Hart will be between the posts as he occupies that position for years and will get the number 1 jersey with the things being more than clear. He was stable during the most of the season in Manchester City and had good performances during qualifiers. Still, he had some setbacks in previous years in his performances and the side might benefit from a bit more trust worthy goalkeeper.
Central defensive duo will probably consist of Smalling and Cahill, who are experienced enough in any way. Cahill comes from a poor season with Chelsea, but anyway his position shouldn't be questionable. Fullbacks will most likely be two players from Tottenham, as Rose and Walker come from full seasons in Premier League where they did decently, with Bertrand waiting for his chance from the bench.
As for the midfield, maybe it's a pity that Hodgson didn't invite Drinkwater who had a great season with champions from Leicester as the player surely could help in some way. Defensive midfielder Eric Dier from Tottenham looks sure to start, as he was surely one of the best defensive midfielders in Premier League. Position in front will get James Milner. Extremely talented Dele Alli should also get his playing time, while Henderson, Sterling and Barkley do look like players for the bench - at least at the start. However, surely some of them might be used as wingers in different formations of Hodgson.
As for attack, there goes probably the biggest dilemma for Hodgson, since he simply needs to put Vardy and Kane playing together, after the first one having epic season with Leicester. Formation used could be either 4-3-3 with Vardy on the right, either 4-3-1-2. Despite coming from a modest season with some injuries, team captain Wayne Rooney might be given a place behind these two. Sturridge and Rashford are surely valuable solutions from the bench.
Manager Roy Hodgson:
It's been four years that Roy Hodgson is at the position of national team manager and has been leading them to two major events. He started well at EURO 2012, but lost in quarter-finals game to Italy after penalties. However, real disaster came in Brazil 2014 when the side finished at the bottom of the group not managing to win even against Costa Rica. Still, Hodgson remained at the position getting another opportunity. His experience can not be ignored and the team surely has great potential and nice atmosphere after qualifying path, but whether they will be able to fight with the pressure, remains big question mark.
As usual, English side remains with big dreams for this competition. Their roster surely looks very good, especially with Vardy and Kane who are coming from great seasons. Only "weaker" spots might be found in defense, also in the question whether Rooney's form is at desired level.
Odds of around 1.80 to win the group are looking very decent, however overall progress will depend on their first game already. In case they get a victory, probably their path in the group stage will go in the best possible way. Odds of around 5.50 for Vardy to be the top goalscorer of his national team might have some value, since the player comes from a great momentum build this season. Also, special bet Vardy to start the first game @ 1.72 might be interesting as well.
As a part of Soviet Union, Russians had a lot of success in the finals of European competition, however their course has been a bit different in recent twenty years or so. Still, they managed to reach the final event in four of of last five competitions, with the exception of not playing in 2000. Their biggest achievement in recent time was semi-final in 2008, when the team got easily defeated by Spain, side that became champions later on.
Russian national team shown two faces during their qualifiers in a group where their opponents were Austria, Sweden, Montenegro, Moldova and Liechtenstein. They made few setbacks with Fabio Capello as a head coach, but improved in the last qualifying stage led by Leonid Slutsky as Capello's replacement. Finally, they managed to finish second in the group and get the direct qualification with twenty points collected, having 6-2-2 record and 21:5 goal difference, leaving Sweden behind them.
Since their qualifying path ended, Russians had six friendly matches, celebrating two victories, having a draw and three defeats. In two most recent matches, they lost to Czech Republic 1:2 and drew against Serbia 1:1, nothing showing something special in last two.
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Yuri Lodygin (Zenit), Guilherme Marinato (Burnley)
Defenders: Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Aleksei Berezutski (CSKA Moscow), Vasili Berezutski (CSKA Moscow), Georgi Shchennikov (CSKA Moscow), Roman Shishkin (Lokomotiv Moscow), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit), Roman Neustädter (Schalke), Dmitri Kombarov (Spartak Moscow)
Midfielders: Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Oleg Shatov (Zenit), Oleg Ivanov (Terek Grozny), Aleksandr Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Dmitri Torbinski (Krasnodar), Artur Yusupov (Zenit), Pavel Mamayev (Krasnodar), Roman Shirokov (CSKA Moscow)
Forwards: Fyodor Smolov (Krasnodar), Artyom Dzyuba (Zenit), Aleksandr Kokorin (Zenit).
They weren't going anywhere with Fabio Capello as a head coach, so the federation opted for Slutsky who was current champions with CSKA Moscow in the domestic league and it seemed like he is an excellent choice. Their preparation for EURO didn't start in the best way, since it became known that very important midfielder, Alan Dzagoev (49 caps, 9 goals for national team) will not be playing due broken metatarsal. In addition to him, Russians will also miss Denis Cheryshev, Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Yuri Zhirkov, players that could be having enough quality to rise up their level. Things to get worse, defender Igor Denisov got injured in the last friendly game.
Their formation will probably be 4-2-3-1 with Slutsky surely opting for Akinfeev between the posts. The player has already 87 caps for the national team and looks sure and that position for many years more. Central defenders should consist of irreplaceable duo from CSKA Moscow, Berezutski and Ignashevich. Right full back should be Igor Smolnikov, while the other flank should occupy Dmitri Kombarov, even though other left back, Georgi Shchennikov looks competitive as well.
Highly talented Aleksandr Golovin should get the position in the midfield, together with Denis Glushakov. Shatov and Kokorin also look sure as a bit more offensive part of the side, with Mamayev and Shirokov surely getting their chance during the tournament. Number nine seems to be sure for Artyom Dzyuba who had excellent season with Zenit, scoring 23 goals in all competitions.
Manager Leonid Slutsky:
After six rounds of qualifiers, Slutsky took the charge over the national team, simultaneously working as a head coach of CSKA Moscow as well, having great success with that club over the past six years. He is maybe the most suitable person for a position of national team manager, being very familiar with people and situation in Russian football, selecting seven out of twenty-three players from his CSKA Moscow.
After injuries of Denisov and Dzagoev, their chances to progress the group are a bit weakened, however the team will probably be fighting till the last breath. They are now especially weakened in the midfield, but still have a decent chance to progress to the last sixteen with the new system employed.
They will probably have tight battle with Slovakia and Wales, with the Russian side being more experiences in these. However, they'll have problems, especially when talking about their slow central defensive duo. Odds of around 3.50 to finish in the group might be worth considering. Odds of around 4.50 for Dzyuba to be the top goalscorer of the team might also be tempting. Russians to exit the competition in last sixteen phase with odds of 2.62 also look decent.
This will be the first appearance for Wales at the final stage of European Championship and overall, only their second participation in the finals of big event, since the team appeared once at the World Cup event, back in 1958 in Sweden.
Wales was drawn in the second qualifying group together with Belgium, Bosnia, Israel, Cyprus and Andorra, managing to finish second in the group behind Belgium with 6-3-1 record and modest 11:4 goal difference. From the beginning of qualifiers, Wales showed that they will be playing with purely British style, leaning on the defensive tasks at first. Conceding just four goals in ten competitive matches made the difference for them, staying undefeated in both matches against arguably the best team in the group - Belgium, even beating them with a narrow 1:0 score in Cardiff.
They were based in Portugal in the training camp, doing there most of the preparation period. They did just one friendly game, playing with the Swedish national team in Stockholm. They didn't look very positive, suffering 3:0 defeat but with a very rotated squad.
Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace), Owain Fon Williams (Inverness), Danny Ward (Liverpool)
Defenders: Ashley Williams (Swansea), James Collins (West Ham), Davies Ben (Tottenham), Chris Gunter (Reading), Neil Taylor (Swansea), James Chester (West Brom), Jazz Richards (Fulham)
Midfielders: Andy King (Leicester), Joe Ledley (Crystal Palace), David Edwards (Wolves), David Cotterill (Birmingham), Jonathan Williams (Crystal Palace), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), Joe Allen (Liverpool), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
Forwards: Hal Robson-Kanu (Reading), George Williams (Fulham), Simon Church (MK Dons), Sam Vokes (Burnley), Gareth Bale (Real Madrid).
They will most likely be using formation with five defenders, as the defensive touch remains their primary target. Their first goalkeeper will be Wayne Hennessey from Crystal Palace after having a positive season with the team where they reached the finals of the Cup. Three central defenders will be employed in a five man defense, with Williams being sure there as their team captain as well. Chester from West Brom will be the other one, with Davies Ben should be the third. Fullbacks should be Gunter and Taylor, all five coming from English sides.
Midfield should be consisted of King who comes from Leicester, but also Allen from Liverpool and Ledley from Crystal Palace, all three being used mostly as substitute players this season. In front of them, positions look granted for Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey who both will be having free roles, being the biggest names of their national team. Attack should be relying on Robson-Kanu with the biggest weapon being his speed. Sam Vokes can provide a decent replacement too, scoring fifteen goals this season with Burnley.
Manager Chris Coleman:
Chris Coleman is a national team head coach since 2012 and surely had a great share in their success as the team will appear for the first time in the final event of European Championship. Their national team is playing very good football now, even when having no Gareth Bale on the field. Their will surely appear in a form of three stoppers, using 5-2-2-1 formation with Ramsey and Bale as their biggest stars behind Robson-Kanu.
At the first look we can say that Wales consists of mediocre players from Premier League, led by stars in Bale and Ramsey. Homogeneity is one of their biggest weapons, as well as defensive lineup, while the side also has plenty of potential upfront and are capable of doing damage in case they get underestimated. However, their system looks very rigid and it's hard to see them changing their style to something more flexible. However, they are going into the event without much of pressure.
Their qualification to the knockout stage seems possible, but the odds of 1.50 aren't worthy. Bale is priced at 1.80 for the first team goalscorer, logically. Their first game against Slovakia will probably be a bit more defensive from both sides and taking under 2.5 goals bet or a draw as a full time outcome seems like the most logical choice.
This will be first participation for Slovakia in the final event of EURO 2016, as the team didn't have any previous appearance since the country split of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Only time when they entered big event, was back in 2010 when they played in South Africa at the World Cup and reached to the last sixteen phase losing to Holland.
Slovakia was drawn in quite a difficult group having in mind their quality, as the team had to play against Spain, Ukraine, Belarus, FYR Macedonia and Luxembourg in the qualifying group. They ended up the process with more than positive 7-1-2 record, finishing only behind the Spaniards. They started with six victories in first six matches, making an impressive start especially after 2:1 home victory over Spain.
Since then, they easily held the second position, with only one real setback when the team suffered defeat to Belarus. Since then, the team played seven friendly matches, getting 4-3-0 record. Their last three matches saw the team winning over Georgia and Germany 3:1 each, while they finished the preparation period with a goalless draw against Northern Ireland.
Goalkeepers: Jan Mucha (Slovan Bratislava), Jan Novota (Rapid Wien), Matus Kozacik (Viktoria Plzen)
Defenders: Peter Pekarik (Hertha), Martin Skrtel (Liverpool), Jan Durica (Lokomotiv Moscow), Norbert Gyomber (Roma), Milan Skriniar (Sampdoria), Tomas Hubocan (Dynamo Moscow), Kornel Salata (Slovan Bratislava), Dusan Svento ( Koln)
Midfielders: Jan Gregus (Jablonec), Vladimir Weiss (Al-Gharafa), Ondrej Duda (Legia Warsaw), Stanislav Sestak (Ferencvaros), Miroslav Stoch (Bursaspor), Patrik Hrosovsky (Viktoria Plzen), Marek Hamsik (Napoli), Juraj Kucka (Milan), Robert Mak (PAOK), Viktor Pecovsky (Zilina)
Forwards: Adam Nemec (Willem), Michal Duris (Viktoria Plzen).
Appearance for Slovakia at EURO 2016 surely represents a great success for them since it will be their first time. They left an excellent impression in the qualifying road, with fast and highly aggressive performances, led by Skrtel and Hamsik as their key and star players. However, the team lacks an experienced striker and that's something that might prove to be crucial for bigger success.
Favorite system of their manager Jan Kozak is 4-2-3-1 formation, so there's no doubt that he will use it in opening game against Wales. Goalkeeper Kozacik is sure, after coming from a great season with Viktoria Plzen. Skrtel and Durica remain sure as central defensive duo, while Hubocan and Pekarik should be playing as full backs. Apart from Skrtel from Liverpool, neither of them has actually such a great experience at the biggest possible level, despite their numerous caps for the national team.
Juraj Kucka remains more than sure in the midfield section, as well as defensive midfielder Pecovsky from Zilina. In front of them we should see Vladimir Weiss who should be giving some extra offensive solutions to the team. Mak and especially Hamsik, are also sure starters, especially after the later one scored five goals during the qualifiers. Michal Duris remains sure in attack, acting as a real number nine, scoring sixteen goals in Czech Republic this season.
Manager Jan Kozak:
He is a national team coach since Summer of 2013, becoming the first technician to lead the country to the final event of European championship. He has never worked outside the borders of his country, working with Kosice back in 1997-98 when he reached the Champions League group stage back then, being also the first team from Slovakia to manage that. He is using quite offensive philosophy, almost always sticking to 4-2-3-1 formation, but will probably use somewhat more conservative tactics against England.
Slovakia left a good impression in the qualifying process, playing quite attractive football and entertaining to watch. Their lineup seems to be well trained with a mixture of experienced and talented players, however without impressive striker.