Robbie Fowler gives his verdict on England's opening match against Russia on Saturday.
I know the last World Cup was a disaster but this is the competition we judge the manager on. England hardly put a foot wrong in the qualifying campaign and we’ve got a young, vibrant side that won’t fear anyone – this really is a time to be excited about the national team. Whilst I still struggle to see us going all the way, I’m confident we can make a big impression in this tournament, starting on Saturday with three points against Russia.
I believe we’ve got a forward line that will be feared throughout Europe. I don’t see any reason why Roy shouldn’t start with Kane and Vardy up top and really try and take the game to the opposition, especially as Russian centre-backs Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski are arguably the slowest pairing in the tournament. With Rooney sat behind the front two pulling the strings, we can cause them all sorts of problems.
Defensively we’re probably not as strong as some of the other nations, but I think Smalling and Cahill are our best combination as things stand, and that’s the pairing Roy will probably go with. I know a lot of people rate John Stones very highly, and I do too, but we all know he’s got a mistake in him and the stakes are so high at this tournament that one error could mean we are on the plane home.
I know a lot of good judges that rate Jack Wilshere very highly but I just don’t see what they see, and he hasn’t done enough to justify his place in this squad, let alone the starting eleven. Personally I would have taken Danny Drinkwater instead, he’s had an amazing season at Leicester and his understanding with Jamie Vardy shouldn’t be underestimated.
So what’s the best bet on Saturday night? I think England are too short to back in the win-draw-win market but the bet that stands out for me is England to win to nil, at best odds 15-8. I didn’t see anything from Russia in the qualifiers that makes me think they could really test us if we are on our game, and we should have far too much for them at the other end of the pitch.
Earlier in the evening, Wales kick-off their tournament against Slovakia in Bordeaux and I think Chris Coleman’s side can get off to a winning start. Star man Gareth Bale isn’t the most expensive player on the planet without good reason and I don’t see any reason why he won’t shine in this tournament. He terrorises defences with his pace and dribbling ability, and Slovakia are hardly watertight at the back, so I will be backing the Real Madrid star to score first (best odds 4-1) in the Saturday evening clash.
Northern Ireland play Poland on Sunday and the standout bet in the game has to be Robert Lewandowski to score any time at best odds even money. Northern Ireland have done brilliantly well to make it to this tournament but it will take some performance from them to keep out one of the hottest marksmen in world football.
All the best,