UEFA EURO 2016 Preview – Group B: “It’s coming home, it’s coming…” cough cough!! The years of the Golden Generation and their miserable failures are over. This ENGLAND side, unburdened by the expectations of success, have genuine bite to go with their qualifying bark – 10 wins from 10, 31 goals and the Premier League‘s top two goalscorers in Kane and Vardy expected to spearhead the cause. Roy Hodgson‘s only worries are a less than convincing centre-back pairing and where to play his captain, Wayne Rooney? Despite, the Three Lions should cruise through the group in style. WALES (or, as the European media are calling them “Bale + 10”), in their first tournament appearance in 58 years, won’t be too far behind them. Coach Chris Coleman has been tactically astute throughout his campaign and will flex the formation to suit the opposition. Saying that, the opener against the Slovaks is a must win! A defence that conceded only four goals in qualifying (one of which was to Andorra!!) will be stretched however, so never has a country needed its superstar to shine like hero Gareth Bale must do. RUSSIA owe much to mastermind coach Leonid Slutsky (a former goalkeeper who had to retire at 19 after suffering a serious knee injury falling out of a tree while rescuing a neighbour’s cat! Oh, he is also working for free because sacking Capello cost the Russian FA too much. What a guy!) Slutsky, also current CSKA Moscow coach leading them to 3 titles in 4 years and their first ever UEFA Champions League quarter-final, has reinvigorated a Russian attack reminiscent of the great Soviet Union team of the late 80s (Protasov, Aleinikov, Mykhaylychenko, and the phenomenal Zavarov). Zenit’s talented duo Artem Dzyuba and Aleksandr Kokorin will look for plenty of service from Roman Shirokov who was absent for the horrendous showing in Brasil in the World Cup. They could push the Welsh out of 2nd place. I don’t see SLOVAKIA troubling the group despite wins against Spain early in qualifying and Germany in a warm-up game for the tournament. Enigmatic talent Marek Hamsik has to have a special tournament to inspire an ageing side who may see more than 12 players retire after the tournament.
How’s your nerve? A spicy British derby will excite fans of both England and Wales, however poor showings in their opening games may bring back the old, familiar air of desperation so early in a major tournament.
Fun link between all the teams – Slovakia coach Ján Kozák gave his son the exact same name, said son spent 6 miserable games on-loan at English side West Brom, whose coach Tony Pulis is Welsh. Pulis signed striker Salomón Rondón from Russian club Zenit after a phone call to André Villas-Boas, who said he had to offload the striker due to a direct diktat from Vladimir Putin to play Russian players more after he was concerned by the national side’s poor performances in qualifying for the Euros.