In part two of our Euro 2016 countdown we take a look at Group B, which is home to England, Russia, Slovakia and Wales.
England are likely to be one of the favourites for the tournament but they will have to negate some tricky ties first to cement safe passage to the last 16.
Slovakia, Russia and in particular Wales all put in sterling displays to finish runners-up in their respective qualifying groups but England were the only team with a 100% record in qualifying, so there will be a target on their back from the outset.
Being the most clinical team in qualifying doesn’t always translate to being the best team in the competition, although Spain headed into Euro 2012 with a perfect 8-0 record and won the competition outright. England will be hoping to replicate Spain’s achievements in France.
The Three Lions have named a very young 23-man provisional squad, with many of the regular starters being replaced by a new generation of English stars. Boss Roy Hodgson is taking a big risk but based on the performances of some of the younger players in the Premier League, he would have been taking a bigger risk leaving them out.
Player to watch: Dele Alli
Russia were outstanding in the qualifiers, with big wins over Sweden and Montenegro. They also recorded their joint-biggest victory ever in their 7-0 hammering of Liechtenstein away from home. They will be looking to take this form to France and potentially upset a few of the bigger teams.
Austria, who topped Russia’s qualifying group, could well be their opponents again in the last 16 should both teams finish as runners-up. Russia would prefer to avoid this scenario, seeing as they lost both games 1-0 when the sides met in qualifying.
Player to watch: Aleksandr Kerzhakov
Prediction: round of 16
Slovakia too had a great qualifying campaign, finishing behind Spain and they were the only team to beat the Spaniards in a 2-1 victory. Also, similarly to Russia, their chances of playing Spain in the last 16 are quite high. If Slovakia finish third and Spain win their group, the pair could meet.
Unlike Russia however, Slovakia would relish the opportunity to reach the last 16 in their first ever European Championships, regardless of the potential opponent. The Slovakian team, though, has some burgeoning stars and could be one to watch.
Player to watch: Marek Hamsik
Prediction: group stages
Wales are preparing themselves for their first ever European Championships also and will be relishing the opportunity to play neighbours England in the group stages. Having not qualified for a major tournament since their sole appearance at the World Cup finals in 1958, there will be very little pressure on Wales.
In 1958 however, even though they qualified via a political technicality, Wales did qualify for the knockout phase of the competition and may be quietly hoping for the same result this time out. Their recent results saw them jump to 8th in the FIFA world rankings in October of last year.
Player to watch: Gareth Bale
Prediction: round of 16
Paul O’Dea, Pundit Arena
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