UEFA Euro 2016 preview: Group B

In what is likely to be one of the more closely contested groups at Euro 2016, England, Russia, Wales and Slovakia will battle it out for two places in the knockout rounds.

We take a closer look at the four teams in the group and their chances of success…

Group overview:

While England and Russia will surely be the bookies’ favourites to progress as winners and runners-up in Group B, Wales and Slovakia will certainly be no pushovers.

England boast a squad laden with talent plying their trade in the English Premier League and, having breezed through the qualifying rounds, must be considered the favourites to top the group.

Russia, runner-up in Qualifying Group G, look the most likely of the remaining teams to finish second behind England, although the threat posed by Wales and Slovakia should not be underestimated.

Boasting several star names, Wales and Slovakia could well pip Russia to a second-place finish in the group stage.

England:

Under the watchful eye of veteran manager Roy Hodgson, the Three Lions will be aiming to better their most recent performance in the European Championship by progressing to the semi-finals this year.

They made it all the way to quarter-finals in the 2012 edition, hosted in Poland and Ukraine, but lost out to Italy, who were defeated 4-0 by Spain in the final.

And, with many exciting young talents coming through and several aging stars missing out in this year’s squad, England will have the chance to lay down a marker ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

GettyImages-3323067

Key players:

As the elder statesmen in the Three Lions squad, the performances of goalkeeper Joe Hart and striker Wayne Rooney could well prove to be critical to their chances of success.

Heading into the prime of his career, Hart will be looking to put all thoughts of a disappointing season behind him ahead of the new season, especially with newly-appointed Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola keeping a close eye on his progress at the tournament.

For Rooney, meanwhile, Euro 2016 will be the striker’s last chance for silverware at the height of his powers – he will be 34-years-old when Euro 2020 rolls around.

Russia:

Finishing runners-up in Qualifying Group G behind Austria, Russia head into Euro 2016 looking to improve on their ninth-place finish at the most recent edition of the European Championship.

With a new man at the helm in Leonid Slutsky, Russia have gone for a local option to take up the reins following the sacking of Fabio Capello in July last year.

However, as this is Slutsky’s first foray into international management, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to inspire Russia to their first-ever appearance in the final of the competition.

GettyImages-3323067

Key players:

While there are several experienced campaigners who will be crucial to their hopes of success, the most important contribution will come from a relative newcomer to the national team setup in striker Artyom Dzyuba.

At 27-years-old, Dzyuba has made just 16 appearances for Russia, but has already bagged eight goals, and a return of one goal in every other game makes him a certainty to lead the line in France. A tall, imposing frontman, Dzyuba has made just one appearance for Russia this year, but netted six goals in seven appearances in 2015.

Another player who will be relied upon to produce the goods is none other than 30-year-old goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. With over 85 international caps to his name, the CSKA Moscow stalwart will be key to Russia’s quest to claim their first-ever European Championship title.

Wales:

Making their debut in the European Championship after finishing runners-up in Qualifying Group B behind Belgium, Wales are arguably one of the dark horses of Euro 2016.

While they have no pedigree in the competition to speak of, Chris Coleman has a wealth of talented players at his disposal, although they do perhaps lack strength in depth.

And, with most of their star players heading into their prime, this could prove to be Wales’ best chance of making inroads into the latter stages of the competition.

GettyImages-3323067

Key players:

As the world’s most expensive footballer, following his 100m euro move to Real Madrid in 2013, Gareth Bale is without a doubt Wales’ star man.

The forward, 26, heads into the tournament off the back of a successful campaign in Spain, having won his second Champions League title at the end of May.

Wales skipper Ashley Williams and the midfield duo of Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey will also be crucial to the debutants’ chances of success.

Slovakia:

Another potential dark horse at Euro 2016, Slovakia will also be making their debut at the tournament after finishing runners-up in Qualifying Group C behind 2012 winners Spain.

While they don’t boast too many star names in their squad, they have several players plying their trade in some of Europe’s top domestic leagues.

And with a good blend of youth and experience, head coach Jan Kozak will be hoping to steer his charges into the latter stages of the competition.

GettyImages-3323067

Key players:

Midfielder maestro Marek Hamsik is without a doubt Slovakia’s key man, having played a pivotal role in the successful qualifying campaign.

The stylish attacker scored five goals for Slovakia in the qualifiers, while he also enjoyed a successful season with Napoli, scoring six times and providing 11 assists as the Serie A outfit finished in second place behind Juventus.

Despite experiencing a somewhat disappointing domestic campaign at Liverpool, skipper Martin Skrtel remains a crucial cog in the Fighting Jondas machine. And, with his future at the Anfield outfit seemingly in doubt, Skrtel will the chance to put himself in the shop window by impressing potential suitors.

Comments