Euro 2016 Preview: Group B

ENGLAND

Qualified as: Group E winner

Top scorer in Qualifying: Wayne Rooney (7)

Key Player: Dele Alli

Manager: Roy Hodgson

A young, incredibly promising squad juxtaposed by a declining captain and an a predominantly conservative manager. Those factors could create the perfect storm of England finally breaking their quarter-final curse, or equally see them plummet out of the group stages in a similar manner to the World Cup. With not much to choose between his options for almost every position, including four strikers in hot form, it’s likely Hodgson will tailor his starting Xis around the opposition for each match – but every selection will inevitably conjure up controversy. As ever with the Three Lions, the fear of being eliminated via a penalty shootout lingers in the background.

RUSSIA

Qualified as: Group G runner-up

Top scorer in Qualifying: Artyom Dzyuba (8)

Key Player: Aleksandar Kokorin

Manager: Leonid Slutsky

Russia flopped almost as embarrassingly as England at the 2014 World Cup, going out at the group stages without a single win to their name. Qualifying wasn’t exactly a smooth ride either, finishing behind Albania and changing managers halfway through the campaign following a string of bad results. But the appointment of Leonid Slutsky has turned their fortunes around, winning six of eight under the former CKSA Moscow boss, and Aleksandar Kokorin and Artyom Dzyuba offer threat up front, with a combined return of 19 in 53 at international level.

WALES

Qualified as: Group B runner-up

Top scorer in Qualifying: Gareth Bale (7)

Key Player: Gareth Bale

Manager: Chris Coleman

Making their European Championship debut, Wales have struck an ultimate equilibrium of blind optimism and a lack of pressure after already exceeding expectations in qualifying. Of course, their progression through the tournament will almost entirely hinge on Gareth Bale’s ability to consistently create magic in the final third – Chris Coleman has created a simple yet effective system of keeping nine men behind the ball and unleashing the Real Madrid star on the counter. Not that Wales’ squad is absent of any other top-quality personnel ; Swansea skipper Ashley Williams, Liverpool’s Joe Allen and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey will all feature.

SLOVAKIA

Qualified as: Group C runner-up

Top scorer in Qualifying: Marek Hamsik (5)

Key Player: Martin Skrtel

Manager: Jan Kozak

Slovakia upset the odds in qualifying to record a runner-up finish, even claiming a shock 2-1 win over Spain – one of the favourites for the Euro 2016 title. Their squad brings together players plying their trade in the farthest corners of Europe and yonder (including Al-Garafari’s Vladimir Weiss) with only two standout stars in Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel and talismanic midfielder Marek Hamsik, who boasts an impressive 17 goals at international level. But there’s clearly a good feeling under Jan Kozak, having won 59% of his 29 games in charge throughout a three-year spell, and a solid balance to starting Xi albeit lacking a dependable front-man.

KEY FIXTURE – ENGLAND VS WALES (June 16th)

It seems almost pre-destined that Welsh advancement to the latter stages will include a win over bordering rivals England, whilst failing to beat Chris Coleman’s side could leave England facing a similar fate to the 2014 World Cup, with Slovakia and Russia both likely to be happy with a point against the Three Lions. So for both countries, defeat in this fixture could well bring their tournaments to an end, whilst victory could clinch them second spot at the very least.