The squads have finally been submitted and now we edge closer to the kick off on 10th of June. A player can be replaced through injury up until the first game but managers will be hoping that won’t be necessary. It’s time for the squads to get settled in their respective camps and for the managers, they hope they have selected the right 23. Here we preview group B, featuring England, Wales, Russia and Slovakia.
Roy Hodgson guided his England side to a 100% record in qualifying albeit with a very easy group. They scored 31 times and conceded just 3. Of their last 6 friendlies they have won 4 of them with loses coming to the Netherlands and Spain. Confidence will be high when they head to France and the fans will be hoping they don’t get stage fright once more.
At the 2014 World Cup, England where embarrassingly sent packing from the group stage and it’s something Hodgson must avoid in France. This will be England ninth appearance at the European Championships where they have failed to get out of the group on 4 occasions. The ex-Liverpool manager knows the pressure that managing the national side brings but he hasn’t helped his cause with his final 23.
Only 3 central defenders have been picked and although Eric Dier can cover in there, he’s best suited as a defensive midfielder. Another antidote missing from this squad is a direct winger with Raheem Sterling being inconsistent. James Milner is versatile and Adam Lallana cuts inside, so it’s a squad that lacks balance and width. Roy sprang a huge surprise in his squad announcement when he decided to leave Premier League winner Danny Drinkwater in favour of the out-of-form Ross Barkley and the injury prone Jack Wilshere. The Leicester City midfielder was instrumental in guiding his team to a shock title win and can feel very hard done by his non-selection. Jack Wilshere only made 1 start in all of last season while Barkley was so inconsistent for Everton; Certainly one for the fans to be aggrieved about.
Dele Alli has made the squad and his talent will be on show for everyone to see. The midfielder had an outstanding first season for Tottenham Hotspur and could light up this tournament for his country.
There are more problems in the attacking third for Hodgson and there is much debate about who he will select as his first choice centre forwards. Captain Wayne Rooney has been AWOL since the retirement of Alex Ferguson but is the all-time top goal scorer for his country and will play. One of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy will partner him, with both of them coming off excellent seasons. The former bagged 25 goals for Tottenham while Vardy hit 24 as he lifted the league title. A shock inclusion was Marcus Rashford, who scored on his England debut and grabbed his chance at Manchester United with both hands.
However, still only 18 years of age, it may have been better for Drinkwater to make the trip rather than the young striker in a position that’s well covered.
Leonid Slutsky is the only manager at the European Championships to manage two sides as he is the manager of CSKA Moscow. The Russian has just guided Moscow to the league title beating surprise package Rostov and has called up 7 players from his club side. All but one of the 23 players selected play in their home country while German Roman Neustadter plies his trade with Schalke.
The Schalke defender has been capped twice by Germany but had opted to play for Russia and just received citizenship on the 18th of May. It’s an aging and experienced back line which conceded just 5 times in qualifying but Neustadter will bring some steel.
How well Russia do will depend on how experienced duo Roman Shirokov and Igor Denisov perform. They both have a combined 105 caps and 13 goals which have all come from Shirokov. Oleg Shatov could be the one to open up the door in the final third for the Russians. The Zenit St Petersburg winger is quick and very skilful. With Alan Dzagoev ruled out through injury, Shatov will have to perform.
There is no Aleksandr Kerzhakov in the squad so goals from Aleksandr Kokorin and Artyom Dzyuba will need to be consistent. They have 19 goals between them at international level with the latter expected to lead the line. Russia will be no pushovers in what is a tough group and will kick off on the 11th of June against England with just 1 loss in their last 6 competitive games.
One of the surprise results of the qualifying round was the Slovakians beating Spain 2-1. This result set them on their way to a second place finish in a group with Ukraine and Macedonia. Since breaking away from Czechoslovakia, this will be their first ever appearance at the European championships.
Martin Skrtel will lead the line from the back, the Liverpool defender has been capped over 80 times and despite below par performances he remains key to Jan Kozak’s side. Tomas Hubocan and Jan Durica are also part of an experienced back line that conceded just 8 times in qualifying.
Napoli’s Marek Hamsik is an influential figure in midfield for Slovakia. His quality, skill and ability will be key in the final third as he will look to make them tick. He is partnered in there with AC Milan’s Juraj Kucka and ex Chelsea player Miroslav Stoch. Robert Mak has also a bit of quality about him and could be one to watch. The attacking midfielder can play anywhere in the attacking line and has already notched 7 goals for his country.
33 year old Stanislav Sestak is expected to lead the line and has just 13 goals for his country. The Ferencvaros forward will be hoping for some consistency when chances come his way in France. Sitting in 32nd place in the world rankings, Slovakia are expected to be the whipping boys in this group but having just beat world champions Germany don’t rule out a surprise.
Chris Coleman has done a marvelous job since been appointed the manager of Wales. The ex-Fulham manager guided his side to a superb second place finish in qualifying where they also beat Belgium. Wales finished their group with just one loss and 4 goals conceded. This will be their first appearance at the European championships which shows how good of a job Coleman has done.
Swansea City defender Ashley Williams is the captain and the leader at the back. He does his job superbly and is slightly underrated. His experience along with James Collins makes a strong duo that was evident in qualifying. It is that good understanding at the back which has been key to Wales recent success. Chris Gunter and Neil Taylor provide good solid attacking options from full back, while Ben Davies and James Chester provide the back up.
This Wales squad wont fear anybody in France and that’s down to Gareth Bale. The Real Madrid player is the poster boy for his country but whether he can stay fit and deliver on the big stage, remains to be seen. Also key in the midfield for Coleman is the fitness of Aaron Ramsey who so often is hampered by injury. If the Arsenal midfielder can stay fit and strike a strong partnership with Joe Allen, then Wales will threaten the opposition.
Leicester City’s Andy King makes the 23 and will offer Wales width and a goal threat in the box, while Joe Ledley has made a remarkable turnaround from injury but questions still remain over his match fitness. Outside of Bale, the Welsh don’t have much goal scoring threat with Sam Vokes and Simon Church scoring just 9 international goals in over 70 caps between them. They both lack quality and consistency in front of goal and that might be Coleman’s Achilles heel.
Wales kick off their campaign on June the 11th against Slovakia in what will be a debut game in the competition for both sides. Gareth Bale and co will look for a quick fire start to settle any nerves that could creep into the squad.
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