KARACHI: Euro 2016’s Group B has all the ingredients John le Carré would need for one of his Cold War spy novels as it allows old foes England and Russia to resume ‘The Great Game’ when they face off against each other on Matchday 2, while it provides a great opportunity for newcomers Slovakia and Wales to make their mark against Europe’s elites.
The group’s dynamics have been altered a little but by an impressive Wales who, propelled by Real Madrid superstar, have made their first appearance in the European championships. They are primed to finish behind England but given the Three Lions poor outings in previous editions of European competition, it would be no surpise if somehow Wales end up topping the group.
With a perfect qualifying record, England are without a doubt one of the most formidable sides in Euro 2016.
Pitted against Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, and San Marino, Roy Hodgson’s men conceded only three goals in 10 games to top their qualifying group, seven points clear of second-placed Switzerland.
With England’s all-time leading goalscorer Wayne Rooney captaining the side, the 1966 World Cup winners have a great chance of winning the tournament this time around, however their history in the competition speaks otherwise.
Having qualified for the tournament eight times in the past, England have never lifted the trophy, not even in 1968, when they were reigning world champions.
Nevertheless, this time around, the side consists of some of Europe’s most prolific strikers. While the absence of Danny Welbeck due to injury will hurt England a little bit, the presence of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy makes England a force to be reckoned with.
Goalkeepers: Fraser Forster (Southampton), Joe Hart (Manchester City), Tom Heaton (Burnley)
Defenders: Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), John Stones (Everton), Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur)
Midfielders: Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur), Ross Barkley (Everton), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), James Milner (Liverpool), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
Technically this would be Russia’s fifth appearance in European Championships, with the side reaching the semi-finals in 2008, only to be thwarted by champions Spain.
However, if we accumulate Soviet Union’s record into this, the tournament in France would be Russia’s eleventh overall, with the side winning the inaugural competition in 1960.
To reach this stage, Russia vied with Austria, Sweden, Montenegro, Liechtenstein and Moldova in the qualifying round, garnering 20 points in 10 matches, which included two draws and as many defeats; both against qualifying group leaders Austria.
The squad consists of all Russia-based players with the exception of recently naturalised Roman Neustädter, who plays for Schalke in the German Bundesliga. Key players include Artem Dzyuba, who was the top scorer in the qualifying round with eight goals, and veteran keeper Igor Akinfeev.
However, the Russians will be without injured Alan Dzagoev, who was one of the top scorers in 2012’s edition of the tournament.
To add to their woes, Russia have a poor record in international friendlies in the run-up to Euro 2016, with the side getting beaten at home by Croatia and Czech Republic, and on away by France. Russia were only able to overpower Portugal and Lithuania, which makes their chances slim in the upcoming matches.
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Yuri Lodygin (Zenit St Petersburg), Guilherme (Lokomotiv Moscow)
Defenders: Aleksei Berezutski (CSKA Moscow), Vasili Berezutski (CSKA Moscow), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Dmitri Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Roman Neustadter (Schalke), Georgi Schennikov (CSKA Moscow), Roman Shishkin (Lokomotiv Moscow), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St Petersburg)
Midfielders: Igor Denisov (Zenit St Petersburg), Dmitri Torbinski (Krasnodar), Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Oleg Ivanov (Terek Grozny), Pavel Mamaev (Krasnodar), Aleksandr Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Oleg Shatov (Zenit St Petersburg), Roman Shirokov (CSKA Moscow)
Forwards: Artem Dzyuba (Zenit), Aleksandr Kokorin (Zenit), Fedor Smolov (Krasnodar)
One of the debutants in the tournament, Slovakia independently mark their first appearance in the European Championships despite winning it in 1976 as part of then Czechoslovakia.
The 1960 and 1980 runners-up had a tough qualifying group where they faced Spain, Ukraine, Belarus, Luxembourg and Macedonia. But the minnows secured seven wins in 10 games, defeating reigning champions Spain at home to finish second in their group.
With Liverpool defender Martin Škrtel captaining the side, the squad includes Lokomotiv Moscow star Ján Ďurica and Napoli attacking midfielder Marek Hamšík, who scored five goals in the qualifiers.
In a surprising turn of events, the 1976 champions defeated Switzerland, Iceland, Georgia, and even current World Cup winners Germany in international friendlies prior to the start of the tournament. Even though they were held against Northern Ireland, Latvia and the Republic of Ireland, the Slovaks haven’t tasted defeat since the qualifying round ended.
Goalkeepers: Matus Kozacik (Viktoria Plzen), Jan Mucha (Slovan Bratislava), Jan Novota (Rapid Vienna)
Defenders: Peter Pekarik (Hertha Berlin), Milan Skriniar (Sampdoria), Martin Skrtel (Liverpool), Norbert Gyomber (Roma), Jan Durica (Lokomotiv Moscow), Kornel Salata (Slovan Bratislava), Tomas Hubocan (Dinamo Moscow), Dusan Svento (Cologne)
Midfielders: Marek Hamsik (Napoli), Juraj Kucka (AC Milan), Miroslav Stoch (Bursaspor), Vladimir Weiss (Al-Gharafa), Robert Mak (PAOK), Patrik Hrosovsky (Viktoria Plzen), Jan Gregus (Jablonec), Viktor Pecovsky (Zilina), Stanislav Sestak (Ferencvaros), Ondrej Duda (Legia Warsaw)
Forwards: Michal Duris (Viktoria Plzen), Adam Nemec (Willem II)
Another new face in Euros, Wales finished second in their qualifying group, only two points behind world number two Belgium.
The Welsh defeated teams including Belgium, Israel, Cyprus and Andorra to reach the tournament in France, only suffering defeat at the hands of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Despite having no history in the tournament, Wales have something that most European nations would crave for — the Bale factor.
The Real Madrid forward, who scored seven goals in the qualifiers, is widely considered to be the sole reason for Wales’ qualification, however Liverpool’s Joe Allen and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey might find that offensive.
Furthermore, the Welsh team’s record in international friendlies leading up to Euro 2016 has not been great, with the side losing to the Netherlands, Ukraine and Sweden, and only managing a draw against Northern Ireland.
So, even though no one is betting on them to win Euro 2016, they definitely have the capacity to rattle a few opponents as the tournament proceeds.
Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace), Danny Ward (Liverpool), Owain Fon Williams (Inverness)
Defenders: Ben Davies (Tottenham Hotspur), Neil Taylor (Swansea City), Chris Gunter (Reading), Ashley Williams (Captain, Swansea), James Chester (West Brom), Ashley Richards (Fulham), James Collins (West Ham)
Midfielders: Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Joe Ledley (Crystal Palace), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), Joe Allen (Liverpool), Jonathan Williams (Crystal Palace), George Williams (Fulham), Andy King (Leicester), Dave Edwards (Wolves)
Forwards: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Hal Robson-Kanu (Reading), Sam Vokes (Burnley), Simon Church (MK Dons), David Cotterill (Birmingham City)
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