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An In-Depth Analysis Of England’s Group B Opponents

While the Republic of Ireland’s group has been the topic of much debate, there is always one eye on how England perform at major tournaments and if they will flop again.

The pressure will be huge on Roy Hodgson and his players to at least make the quarter-finals and there are some potential banana skins awaiting them in Group B.

England’s clash with home nation rivals Wales will be the subject of much interest but it could prove to be a distraction from the two other games with Russia and Slovakia.

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Russia

Date and venue: Saturday, June 11, Stade Velodrome, Marseille

How they qualified for Euro 2016: Russia struggled in their first six games under Fabio Capello but won their remaining four games when CSKA Moscow manager Leonid Slutsky took over as they edged Sweden to automatic qualification.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - SEPTEMBER 05: Artem Dzyuba of Russia celebrates after scoring a goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier Group G match between Russia and Sweden at the Arena Otkritie Stadium on September 05, 2015 in Moscow, Russia.  (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)
Artem Dzyuba of Russia celebrates after scoring a goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier Group G match between Russia and Sweden at the Arena Otkritie Stadium on September 05, 2015 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)

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Euros history: Russia have a rather impressive record at European Championships as they won the tournament in 1960, as the Soviet Union, and were runners up in 1964, 1972 and 1988. A run to the semi-finals in 2008, inspired by the brilliant Andrei Arshavin, where they played some breathtaking football, including a demolition of the Dutch in the quarter-finals, has been their best performance since the fall of the Iron Curtain. They lost the semi-final 3-0 to eventual winners Spain. Russia may not be considered a European powerhouse anymore but their pedigree cannot be dismissed.

Key player: Zenit striker Artyom Dzyuba was Russia’s top goalscorer in qualifying with eight goals and they will hope he can carry his form into the finals. Other notable mentions include playmaker Alan Dzagoev and veteran centre-back Sergei Ignashevich who helped Russia keep five clean sheets in qualifying.

Manager: Leonid Slutsky rescued Russia’s faltering qualifying campaign when he took over from Fabio Capello and he will be looking to lead Russia to a successful tournament. He also manages CSKA Moscow and is famous for constantly rocking in his seat throughout the whole ninety minutes. At the age of nineteen he rescued a cat from a tree but fell suffering a knee injury which ended his playing career. He is quite an interesting character.

Tournament chances: Russia have drastically improved since Slutsky took over and they will be aiming for a place in the knockout stages. Traditionally, the Russians possess players of super technical ability and this side also has some steel in defence. A tricky opening game for England lies in store.

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Wales

Date and venue: Thursday, June 16, Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lille

How they qualified for Euro 2016: Wales automatically qualified for the finals, losing just once – a 2-0 defeat away to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Impressively, they only conceded just four goals throughout the campaign, the majority of their goals were provided by Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.

Euros history: Wales can be considered debutants at a European Championship finals but they did reach the quarter-finals in 1976, when oddly only the semi-finals onwards were regarded as the ‘finals’.

Key player: Surprise, surprise, that award goes to the world’s most expensive player, Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale. Bale has struggled for Real Madrid in recent months but he has been on fire for his country, shooting them all the way to France. Bale will be one of the most feared players at the finals and he will be a real concern for England, who despite having much a stronger squad than Wales, do not have a player in the same league as Bale.

CARDIFF, WALES - OCTOBER 13:  Gareth Bale of Wales celebrates victory after the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying Group B match between Wales and Andorra at Cardiff City Stadium on October 13, 2015 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. Wales had already qualified for the UEFA EURO 2016 Championships.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Gareth Bale of Wales celebrates victory after the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying Group B match between Wales and Andorra at Cardiff City Stadium on October 13, 2015 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. Wales had already qualified for the UEFA EURO 2016 Championships. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

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However, without Bale Wales are a much less daunting proposition. Ramsey will be a goal threat and Swansea defender Ashley Williams is a rock at the back but England will feel if they curb Bale’s influence, that they can gain victory over their neighbours.

Manager: Chris Coleman struggled early on when he took over in 2011, experiencing a number of poor results including a 6-1 World Cup qualifying defeat to Serbia but he has dramatically turned things around to guide Wales to the Euros. He is expected to extend his contract beyond 2016.

Tournament chances: Wales will be far from a pushover with the brilliance of Bale and a unique team spirit. They possess all the ingredients to cause a few upsets in France next summer. Qualification to the knockout stages would represent a fantastic achievement.

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Slovakia

Date and venue: Monday, June 20, Stade Geoffroy Guichard, Saint-Ethienne

How they qualified for Euro 2016: Slovakia won their first six qualifiers, including a famous 2-1 win over Spain. However, they stuttered towards automatic qualification claiming just a win and a draw as they pipped Ukraine to the second automatic qualifying spot.

Euros history: This is their first appearance.

Key player: Their captain and Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik is the side’s driving force as the attacking midfielder scored five goals in the qualifying campaign. He is a player that England need to watch closely, if given space he is capable of hurting any defence. Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel is also a crucial player for Slovakia.

Manager: Jan Kozak was appointed manager in July, 2013 and the 61-year-old is a vastly experienced manager having managed several Slovakian league clubs.

OVIEDO, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 05:  Head coach Jan Kozak of Slovakia reacts during the Spain v Slovakia EURO 2016 Qualifier at Carlos Tartiere on Sep 5, 2015 in Oviedo, Spain.Ê  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
Head coach Jan Kozak of Slovakia reacts during the Spain v Slovakia EURO 2016 Qualifier at Carlos Tartiere on Sep 5, 2015 in Oviedo, Spain.Ê (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

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Tournament chances: Slovakia will come into the tournament under the radar but like Russia they possess a number of technically gifted players. We have seen in the past that they are capable of causing an upset as they dumped Italy out in the group stages of the 2010 World Cup before losing out narrowly in the last minute to the Netherlands at the last sixteen stage and their victory over Spain in qualifying also proves they can be a dangerous side.

England play Slovakia in their last group game, which could be a vital fixture and England should be wary of recent history.

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England will be expecting to get out of this group but when you look at their opponents in detail you cannot help but think it will not be straightforward. England and Wayne Rooney will be under pressure not to flop at a major tournament once again but young players such as Nathaniel Clyne, Chris Smalling, John Stones, Delle Ali, Fabian Delph, Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Harry Kane will be crucial to England’s hopes.

Anything short of the quarter-finals would be considered a failure for England so English fans strap yourselves in because the media circus is coming to France and Roy Hodgson’s men could be in for a bumpy ride with potholes to negotiate.

Vincent O’Shea, Pundit Arena

Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team. If you would like to join the team, drop us an email at write@punditarena.com.

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