England should have too much for Wales, Russia and Slovakia in Group B.
Roy Hodgson led England to a perfect record in qualifying and as they look to make up for their flop in Brazil there are reasons to be positive about the Three Lions’ chances here. While they scored only twice in the World Cup group stage exit they can now call upon one of Europe’s most prolific strikers in Harry Kane as well as the pace and intensity of Leicester’s title winner, Jamie Vardy. Wayne Rooney’s form might not be as great as he’d like, and while he top scored for England in qualifying, how important Hodgson makes his captain to England’s play could impact their chances here. England have a useful advantage in our gradings over the second best team, Russia, they really should be winning this group. Hodgson’s only headache before the knockout stages should be how he gets the most out of his skipper. England have won eight of nine meetings with Russia, Wales and Slovakia since 2002/03.
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Russia bring one of the oldest squad with them and look to be a team on a downward trajectory. They scored 11 times in their two qualifying wins over Moldova but just 10 goals in their other eight matches, as they went W4-D2-L2, is some fairly modest form. Since making the semis at Euro 2008 their tournament form has been poor as they failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and won just one of six group matches at Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014 as they failed to reach the knockouts at either. Their manager, Leonid Slutsky, is doing the national team job in conjunction with his position as CSKA Moscow, where he’s had a highly successful spell in charge, winning the Russian title three times since he took over in 2009/10. He had an excellent start with the national team, winning his first five games, but he’s since suffered a couple of friendly defeats against Croatia and France. They should make it out the group but may well have to do in 3rd as both Wales and Slovakia look capable of upsetting them.
Perhaps more than any other team in the tournament Wales’ hopes rest on one man alone: Gareth Bale. While they have some other quality – particularly Premier League duo Ashley Williams and Aaron Ramsey – they’ve no one that comes close to the Real Madrid superstar. Bale gives them a threat in attack, but it’s virtually the only one as he scored seven of the 11 goals Wales scored in qualifying and assisted for two of the others. Their goal here will be to upset Russia and claim second spot. Wales qualified impressively behind heavyweights Belgium. They were unbeaten until their penultimate game and actually took four points off the group winners.
In a similar fashion to Wales, Slovakia have one star in their squad: Marek Hamsik. The Napoli star also top scored for his nation in qualifying but lacks support from elsewhere in the team. We have Slovakia ranked as the fifth worst at France 2016. This is just their second Major Finals and while they beat both Spain and Ukraine in qualifying they look the weakest of the four here and don’t appeal at 2.25 to progress.
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