With the first of the six previews posted yesterday, we now move on to Group B, which contains England, Russia, Wales and Slovakia – it’s simply one of those groups of unexpected qualities! Wales have the likes of Bale and Ramsay, who are gamewinners, but the rest of the squad is average. Slovakia beat Spain and Ukraine in qualifying – and have numerous dangerous players. Russia, equally have a chance of upsetting the group favourites, but with an ageing defence could be a shock side to go out of the Groups!
Goalkeepers: Fraser Forster (Southampton), Joe Hart (Manchester City), Tom Heaton (Burnley)
Defenders: Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Danny Rose (Tottenham), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), John Stones (Everton), Kyle Walker (Tottenham)
Midfielders: Dele Alli (Tottenham), Ross Barkley (Everton), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), James Milner (Liverpool), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal).
Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Jamie Vardy (Leicester)
Coach: Roy Hodgson
Qualifying: 1st in Group E – 10 wins out of 10
Even as an Englishman myself – there are still a lot of questions about this England side. Hodgson said he would not pick unfit players, yet has picked 3 of them in Henderson, Wilshere and Sturrdige while leaving a Premier League winner at home in Drinkwater. Wayne Rooney has attempted to be fitted into a side that no longer requires him in there, which has put the performance of others at risk. He, Vardy and Kane really can’t work together, while Delle Alli simply can’t play on the left of midfield. Smalling and Stones, as well as Cahill are a very good choice of centre backs, but with no 4th choice, an injury could leave them short. Hodgson has to get the formation right, and most importantly not allow the likes of James Milner into it. They should qualify, but if the coach gets it wrong his head will be rolling come the start of July.
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Guilherme (Lokomotiv Moscow), Yuri Lodygin (Zenit St. Petersburg)
Defenders: Alexei Berezutsky (CSKA Moscow), Vasily Berezutsky (CSKA Moscow), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Roman Neustadter (Schalke), Georgy Shchennikov (CSKA Moscow), Roman Shishkin (Lokomotiv Moscow), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St Petersburg)
Midfielders: Igor Denisov (Dynamo Moscow), Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Alexander Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Oleg Ivanov (Terek Grozny), Pavel Mamaev (Krasnodar), Alexander Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Oleg Shatov (Zenit St Petersburg), Roman Shirokov (CSKA Moscow), Dmitri Torbinski (Krasnodar)
Forwards: Artyom Dzyuba (Zenit St Petersburg), Alexander Kokorin (Zenit St Petersburg), Fyodor Smolov (Krasnodar)
Coach: Leonid Slutsky: Leonid Slutsky
Qualifying: 2nd place, fighting off Sweden late on.
Russia, as mentioned above are an ageing side. Without Alan Dzagoev’s creativeness they really do lack anything in midfield, and bar Oleg Shatov’s pace they look very likely to struggle to break teams down. There are 5-6 players who are likely to retire from international football in the next few years, but the unfortunate thing is that there is little else to replace them at the moment. Slovakia and Wales are tough opposition, and unless they sneak through in 3rd place as a ‘Best 3rd Place’ side, I could really see them going out early on here!
Goalkeepers: Matúš Kozáčik (Viktoria Plzeň), Ján Mucha (Slovan Bratislava), Ján Novota (Rapid Wien).
Defenders: Peter Pekarík (Hertha Berlin), Milan Škriniar (Sampdoria), Martin Škrtel (Liverpool), Norbert Gyömbér (Roma), Ján Ďurica (Lokomotiv Moskva), Kornel Saláta (Slovan Bratislava), Tomáš Hubočan (Dinamo Moskva), Dušan Švento (Köln).
Midfielders: Marek Hamšík (Napoli), Juraj Kucka (AC Milan), Miroslav Stoch (Bursaspor), Vladimír Weiss (Al-Gharafa), Róbert Mak (PAOK), Patrik Hrošovský (Viktoria Plzeň), Ján Greguš (Jablonec), Viktor Pečovský (Žilina), Stanislav Šesták (Ferencváros), Ondrej Duda (Legia Warszawa).
Forwards: Michal Ďuriš (Viktoria Plzeň), Adam Nemec (Willem II).
Coach: Jan Kozak
Qualifying: 2nd place, beating Spain + Ukraine in an impressive campaign
Slovakia are a very good team in my eyes, and the fact they are favourites to finish bottom is beyond me. Since giving Marek Hamsik a free role they have flourished as a side, and despite Robert Vittek missing out through injury they have a form striker in Michal Duris. There are speedy wingers in Vladimir Weiss, Miroslav Stoch (both formerly in the Premier League and Robert Mak, while Jared Kucka is another key midfielder. Defensively they have issues, with most or even all of their current back four either not getting into club sides, or having only recently recovered from injury to make the cut. This is to their advantage though – when they are underdogs, they flourish! A dangerous side that could well give Russia and Wales problems!
Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace), Danny Ward (Liverpool), Owain Fon Williams (Inverness).
Defenders: Ben Davies (Tottenham), Neil Taylor (Swansea), Chris Gunter (Reading), Ashley Williams (Swansea), James Chester (West Brom), Ashley Richards (Fulham), James Collins (West Ham).
Midfielders: Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Joe Ledley (Crystal Palace), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), Joe Allen (Liverpool), David Cotterill (Birmingham), Jonathan Williams (Crystal Palace), George Williams (Fulham), Andy King (Leicester), Dave Edwards (Wolves).
Forwards: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Hal Robson-Kanu (Reading), Sam Vokes (Burnley), Simon Church (Nottingham Forest)
Coach: Chris Coleman
Qualifying: 2nd place, behind Belgium and above Bosnia/Cyprus.
Wales possibly had one of the easiest groups to contend with. Cyprus, Andorra and Israel were hardly tough games, while Bosnia were very poor for much of the group period. Belgium were also hit and miss, with a 0-0 draw with the Welsh costing me over £600 on an accumulator! Even with Bale, their squad isn’t brilliant with mainly low level Premier League/Championship players, baring Bale and Ramsay. Pressure will be on them as they are expected to do well, but as I type this on a sunny Sunday afternoon – Wales are 2-0 down to an average Sweden side. Slovakia for me are a better side, but even so they will cause problems with Bale in the side. One man team perhaps?
A very interesting group with potentially little to choose between Wales, Slovakia and Russia – England should really win the group, and should they fail to questions will be asked as they couldn’t have asked for a nicer group really. Who qualifies? It will be interesting. Slovakia are the bookies outsiders but I think they will. Russia could really go out, unless they find some creativity from somewhere, while their ageing back four is also a worry. Wales could benefit, but they too have weaknesses. It’s certainly a group where literally anything could happen!
My top tip for Group B is Slovakia Over 2.5 Group Goals @ 5/4