The highly ambitious England team will embark on their Euro 2016 campaign with their tournament opener set against Russia. This Group B encounter will be played at Stade Velodrome on Saturday 11 June.
England are a proper case study of underachievement in European Championships. They bear the ignominy of being the only side to win the World Cup but not win their continental tournament. And just like every major tournament, they enter Euro 2016 with high hopes of lifting the trophy.
Roy Hodgson, England manager, has assembled a young and vibrant squad for this task. This is one of the youngest squads in the tournament but boasts of exciting talent in all positions. Most of the squad members have had excellent domestic seasons and after a long time, England side has a genuine chance of being potential winners.
The presence of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy gives hope to the English faithful that years of underperformance and hurt can be erased. But Hodgson will have to take a call on playing them together or separating them with all-time England top scorer Wayne Rooney waiting in the wings. Recent form suggests dropping Rooney deeper in the midfield with the exciting Dele Alli controlling the centre of the park.
Russia may not be in great form in the lead up to the tournament but they can be a dangerous side. Ever since Fabio Capello was dismissed, their performances have improved under Leonid Slutsky. Qualifying to Euros was a distant dream under Capello but disaster was averted after the Russians qualified second from Group G.
The absence of Alan Dzagoev is a huge blow to Russia whose attack upfront is also not threatening. But, England have a habit of making a meal of simple matches which should boost the confidence of Russia ahead of this game.
In Roman Shirokov and Aleksandr Kokorin, Russia have a set of exciting attackers who should worry the England defence. Any slight mishap could be punished which should keep England on tenterhooks.
England were one of the best teams in the qualification campaign and they carried that form to their recent friendlies. With eight wins out of their last ten matches, Hodgson’s men seems to have found the right way to enter a major tournament. The performances against Portugal or Australia were not entirely convincing but if they have found a way to win dirty, England would have learnt their first step to success.
Russia are on the other end of the spectrum winning just once in their last five matches. Though they managed to score in all of their ten recent encounters, the confidence in the Russian camp will be low. Their only chance lies in stifling the England midfield.
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Hodgson will have to take a difficult decision on Rooney’s position but otherwise he has no concerns. Dele Alli should be a starter after his wonderful season with Tottenham but Jack Wilshere is Hodgson’s favourite and could be pressing claims for a place. When was the last time an England manager had problems of plenty and no injury worries ahead of a major tournament.
Slutsky is not so lucky having lost his midfield lynchpin Igor Denisov to injury. Artur Yusupov has come in as replacement but could struggle to contain the combination of Rooney and Alli in the middle of the park. Watch out for Aleksandr Kokorin who could turn out to be the key attacking presence for the Russians.
Without a doubt, this England squad is one of the best in recent times and they should win this game easily. The presence of young and domestically proven performers should help them buck the trend of goofing up with openers in major tournaments. Kane has been in sensational form in Premier League and should continue with that. And in Marcus Rashford, Hodgson has someone on the bench who has already proven his penchant for scoring important goals!
Poor recent form and injury-hit squad – recipe for disaster? If England take Russia lightly, it could be at their own peril. They may not boast of a great recent record but have found the back of the net in all of their past ten matches. This stat should keep Joe Hart interested but watch out for goals from both ends.
England to win at 1.91 with Betfred