The second international tournament out of 3 this summer will begin in France, which is EURO 2016. This tournament generally is considered one of the best tournaments around the world, on par with the World Cup in the eyes of many, as it has most of the top teams in the world. UEFA wanted to have more countries develop their football, so they have extended this years competition to 24 teams as compared to 16 historically, which should make for some great viewing.
England come into this group after smashing everyone in their qualifying group and then losing just 2 friendlies in that team beating 5 other teams to set them up well for this tournament. They have managed so strike first in most of the games, which bodes for them well coming into this group, where they are expected to win. England have infused the current team with a perfect mix of youth and experience. The experienced heads in Rooney, Milner, Hart, Cahill, Smalling and Sturridge have been around for a while to add some level heads. While younger players who have proved well this season have been added to the squad like Rashford, Kane, Vardy, Alli, Rose, Sterling and Dier who will be the future. England only weakness as seen from their friendlies has been on the defensive side where they have conceded goals in 5 out of those 7 friendlies. England should have enough in the tank to top the group.
Russia qualified to the Euros through a 2nd place finish in their group below Austria sending Sweden into the playoffs and will be looking to perform on the big stage after getting this chance. In their last 4 games in qualifying they let in only one goal, keeping that emphasis on defence. However, when you come to their friendlies they have concede in 3 out of 4 games played in 2016 against France, Serbia, Croatia. Defenders Berezutski, Ignashevich, Schennikov and keeper Akinfeev play for the same team in CSKA Moscow just came from winning the Russian Premier League, but failed to replicate this form so far. Russia’s weakness will be up front with Dzyuba, Aleksandr Kokorin and Smolov who have generally struggled to replicate their club form on the international stage. It will be tight for Russia, and I see a potential 3 way tie with Wales and Slovakia to qualify.
Wales are lucky getting into the European Championship was a big achievement itself. They over-rely on the most expensive player in the world in Gareth Bale. That itself makes them vulnerable considering how injury prone Gareth Bale tends to be. They have lost 3 out of the 4 friendlies they have played since qualifying, scoring just 3 goal in a 1-1 draw against lowly Northern Ireland and in a 2-3 defeat to Holland. Defensively they struggle with Williams, Collins, Chester who are 3 centre backs in a 5 man defence with Hennessy at the back. All of them have had a difficult season, and I cannot see how Wales get out of this group with better offences against them.
Slovakia are the dark horses to qualify out of this group. They had finished in their group 2nd behind Spain and even beat Spain by a score of 2-1. They could have even topped the group after winning their first 6 qualifying games, and then stumbled to the end. They haven’t lost any of their last 7 friendly games leading up to the tournament beating teams like Germany, Georgia, Switzerland and Iceland in that spell. Their strength lies in the midfield with Hamsik, Stoch, Weiss who support the front man Duris. Hamsik in particular is in good form coming into this game, netting in 2 out of his last 3 games. Slovakia will be dangerous and could qualify out of this group, like I said, I think it will be a potential 3 way tie with Wales and Russia.
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