England will kick their Euro 2016 campaign off with a tricky tie against a plucky Russian outfit on Saturday.
England and Russia will go toe-to-toe on Saturday evening, in one of the highlighted opening games of the Euro 2016. The Three Lions have underwhelmed in recent tournaments, and come up against a side that have superb history in the European championship. But just who will have courage, belief and determination to claim all three points?
England v Russia | Stade Velodrome, Marseille | Saturday 11 June| 20:00
After the 2014 World Cup debacle comes hope that England’s youthful squad have learned some valuable tournament lessons. Unlike Euro 2012, when Roy Hodgson took charge a month prior to the finals, he has had four years to plan ahead, with England having breezed through qualifying.
England were the only nation to qualify with a 100% winning record, the first time they have done so in a European Championship qualifying campaign. A tally of 31 goals – seven from Wayne Rooney – was second only to Poland’s 33.
Although England won all of their qualifying matches, the Three Lions are still doubted by many, especially after a disastrous 2014 World Cup. Hodgson will have a young squad – much changed from two years ago – to call upon, with Rooney the last man standing of a former “Golden Generation”.
This will be 68-year-old Hodgson’s third major tournament as England boss as he looks to secure an extension to a contract that expires after the competition. This will be the sixth major tournament for Rooney, but his first as captain, and England’s record goalscorer will be keen on making this a memorable one. However, he isn’t the only threat England posses, with the likes of Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge among other striking options.
Winless at the 2014 World Cup, Russia’s fortunes have improved since Fabio Capello’s sacking in July this year. Replacement Leonid Slutsky reinforced the defence with players from Champions League regulars CSKA Moscow, who he also manages.
They claimed only eight points from six games under Capello but won their remaining four with Slutsky at the helm, including a vital win over Sweden to pip them to automatic qualification. The new man in charge was rewarded for rescuing Russia’s Euro 2016 campaign with a contract until after the finals.
A proliferation of foreign players in the Russian Premier League means there is a shallow pool of talent to call upon, and an ageing squad to work with for the World Cup 2018 hosts. Sergei Ignashevich is a key component for this team. Russia’s rock is now 36, but he remains vital. The CSKA Moscow defender helped Russia keep five clean sheets in the nine qualifiers he played in.
Russia has one of the more decorated histories in the European Championship, when combining their history as the Soviet Union, six times finishing in the top four of the tournament. So Slutsky and his men will be looking to add to that already impressive history.
Verdict: England 17/20
A tight affair is expected between England and Russia, with the odd goal likely to separate the teams. The Three Lions play a much more attacking style of football, compared to that of the Russian’s compact, pressure based, counter-attacking game. England do have a solid enough defence to deal with those attacking threats, through, and are tipped to take maximum points.