The Three Lions have put themselves in a strong position in the group with a win and a draw in the opening two games. Any of Wales, Russia and Slovakia could still be heading home or into last-16, making the final round of games an exciting prospect to watch.
Roy Hodgson’s England answered their critics by fighting back from a goal down to Wales and record a 2-1 victory to take top spot in the group. The England coach made a series of substitutions that added enough quality to carry them over the finish line.
Goalkeeper Joe Hart must’ve thought he’d let his country down when he failed to keep out a Gareth Bale free-kick from at least 35 yards in the first half. When England scored their winner in the second minute of stoppage time he ran the length of the pitch in relief to celebrate.
With England 1-0 down at the break, Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy replaced Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling. It was the substitutes who made the difference when the Leicester man leveled around the hour mark and the Liverpool striker netted the winner deep into stoppage time.
For England the last minute winner was a welcome riposte to the first round of games where they conceded a late equalizer to Russia in a 1-1 draw. Tottenham midfielder Eric Dier had previously put the Three Lions ahead with a free-kick from the edge of the area.
England can now look to progress to the next round with a draw against Slovakia but will surely want to tie up top spot with a victory to gain momentum heading into the last-16.
Chris Coleman will have some work to do to pick up his players’ morale after suffering such a crushing narrow defeat. The Welsh Dragons were on the back foot for the entirety of the game and they could count themselves lucky to be ahead when star man Bale scored his 2nd free-kick of the tournament.
Wales defended resolutely against England but it was not to be their day. The difference in possession and the abundance of quality in the England ranks compared to Wales ultimately told in the end.
Defeat to their Home Nation rivals is perhaps a bit of a reality check for the Dragons who possibly acted overconfident in the media in the run up to the game. Wales did have good reason to though, after dispatching Slovakia 2-1 in their Euro 2016 opener. Bale’s free-kick got them going before Hal Robson-Kanu’s introduction forced the winner with 10 minutes to play.
After defeat to England and the three points won against Slovakia, Wales head into the final group game with work still to do. A win will see them through but a draw would leave them either relying on England to win or with a 3rd placed finish and depending on other results to progress. The Welsh will also be wary of the fact that should they lose to Russia and the England game ends in a draw, they will finish bottom of the group and be heading home.
Slovakia were denied by that smart Wales performance in their opening game but rallied well to embarrass a disappointing Russia in their second match. Against the Welsh Jan Kozaks men left the game a little too open. After going behind and drawing level thanks to Ondrej Duda they were punished with 10 minutes left when they decided to twist rather than stick.
Against Russia the Slovak’s game plan was much more evident, sit back and wait for the perfect moment to strike. On the half hour mark Marek Hamsik unleashed a perfect delivery from deep inside his own half that found Vladmir Weiss who controlled it beautifully before cutting inside slotting home.
Moments before half time Slovakia took advantage of a short corner and man of the match Hamsik doubled the lead with a scintillating shot which found the back out the next via the far post. Slovakia now look like a safe bet to land in the last 16 via second or third spot, even if they can’t get anything against England int eh final round of matches.
Russia meanwhile have probably been one of the worst teams at Euro 2016 so far. In their opening game against England they offered little, only Artem Dzyba a lone bright spot in Leonid Slutsky’s side. Still though, they rescued a point against the Three Lions, which in light of the defeat to Slovakia has kept them in the tournament.
Berezutski’s goal against England came from some desperate long ball tactics toward the end of the game, the likes of which we should be prepared to see more of when they take on Wales. It was another header which brought them back into the tie versus Slovakia, Glushakov converted from Shatov, the latter of whom has shown some moments of magic in Euro 2016 so far too. However it was much too late for Russia and it is impossible at the moment to envisage Russia scoring more than once per game.
Russia’s game with Wales is a must win for Slutsky’s men. Anything other than a defeat will see them on a plane back to Moscow in disgrace. Slovakia meanwhile will sit back against England and fancy their chances that ending the group stage on four points is enough to get them through to the knockouts.
Group B As It Stands
For the first time in a long time, possibly the first time ever, England have a wealth of option within their ranks. This trait was demonstrated at half time against Wales when Roy Hodgson make a double substitution. This now poses many questions over the selection ahead of Slovakia.
Harry Kane has failed to impress for Roy Hodgson so far and his starting spot has been put under immense pressure with Jamie Vardy scoring from the bench versus Wales. The same applies to Raheem Sterling. The Liverpool forward looks low on confidence and might be replaced by match winner Daniel Sturridge.
Delli Ali supplied the assist for Sturridge’s winner but received criticism for his performance, it’s unlikely be he could see his place in the starting eleven taken by Jack Wilshere.
“I think everyone saw the emotions as we ran the risk of smashing our heads against the roof of the bench where we were sitting because we all jumped up spontaneously. It was a particularly poignant moment after what we suffered [against Russia] on Saturday night, when we thought we were really, really hard done by to concede that last-minute equalizer when we played so well,” said Roy Hodgson after the win against Wales.
“It’s crazy,” said match winner Daniel Sturridge. “It’s only one more game in the group so no one wants to get too excited.”
Predicted Line Up: Hart; Walker, Cahill, Smalling, Rose; Dier, Rooney, Ali; Vardy, Kane, Lallana.
Joe Ledley looks to be out of Wales’ crucial final group game. The Crystal Palace midfielder summoned superhero strength to recover from a leg fracture to make the tournament but had to be withdrawn from the game against England after suffering a knock.
Coach Chris Coleman is likely to give Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder Dave Edwards will get the nod to replace Ledley, as he did against Slovakia and midway through the England game. The only selection headache for Coleman is whether to partner Gareth Bale with Jonathan Edwards like eh did versus Slovakia or Hal-Robson Kanu like he did in the loss to England.
Despite being clearly heartbroken after the loss to England, Gareth Bale said, “We still have one more game to go and the tournament’s not over yet.”
“We’re gutted, absolutely devastated.” Said boss Chris Coleman, but we’ve got to show a bit of steel to bounce back. This is a bitter pill to swallow but we’ve got to put it to bed quickly and move on to Russia.”
Predicted Line Up: Hennessey; Davies, Williams, Chester, Gunter, Taylor; D. Edwards, Ramsey, Allen; J. Edwards, Bale.
Against Slovakia, Russia were two down at the break and made two changes. Leonid Slutsky, often reffered to the Jose Moutinho or Russian football, brought on Mamaev and Glushakov in place of the defensively minded Golovin and Neustader. In the Wales game we could see these changes from the start, as only a win will do.
Glushakov, who scored his side’s goal against Slovakia, has been a slight doubt since the start of the tournament and as a result has been used sparingly; Slutsky will wait on the Spartak Moscow midfielder’s fitness but he could be restricted to cameos from the bench.
Russia don’t have any suspensions force any changes and are still visibly struggling with the critical injuries to key midfielders Dzagoev and Yusupov who were ruled out for the entire tournament before the draw with England.
As problems off the pitch appear to get worse and worse each day, the national side stare elimination in the face. Slutsky said: “The situation is very complex and each and every team can qualify after the second game so its going to be decided at the end.”
Predicted Line Up: Akinfeev; Shchennikov, Berezutski, Ignashevich, Smolnikov; Glushakov, Neustaedter, Kokorin, Shatov, Smolov, Dzyuba.
There are no new injuries or suspensions for Slovakia to worry about and look set to name an unchanged side.
Jan Kozak’s 4-6-0 formation appears to be working and with a player like Marek Hamsik in the side, why wouldn’t it? The Napoli forward has put himself squarely in the shop window with his last display and is set to take center stage against the Three Lions.
“This win was very important for us, it opened up a way to the last 16. We have four or five days to prepare for the biggest favorites of the group. I think it will be tougher than these [first] two matches,” said Hamsik after defeating Russia.
Ahead of the game with England Kozak said: “It is a great challenge, obviously they are the top favorites but not always do the favorites win in football.”
Predicted Line Up: Kozacik: Svento, Durica, Skrtel, Pekarik; Kucka, Hrosovsky, Mak, Hamsik, Weiss; Nemec.