Wales and Slovakia will open up Group B with a tasty looking clash at the Stade de Bordeaux on Saturday.
Group B’s opening game pits Wales up against Slovakia. These teams have met on two occasions, with Slovakia thumping Wales 5-2 on their ground in the Euro 2008 qualifiers, before the Dragons avenged that defeat with a 5-2 victory in the return leg. So by the looks of it, we might just be in for a goalfest.
Wales v Slovakia | Stade de Bordeaux | Saturday 11 June| 17:00
To Win Match
Wales 18/10 | Draw 19/10 | Slovakia 18/10
Having made their first finals tournament since 1958, Chris Coleman’s Welsh team are determined to prove that reaching Euro 2016 is not the end of the journey, even if France will be the trip of a lifetime for long-suffering Welsh football fans.
The team is set up to serve one man above all, Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, whose deluge of goals and assists fired them through qualifying; his nation will be hoping he can retain that level of inspiration, even if he is bound to be a marked man.
Making the second round would be a considerable but wholly possible achievement. They did well in the qualifying round as they lost just once, away to Bosnia-Herzegovina – and conceded four goals – only Romania, England and Spain let in fewer. Real Madrid forward Bale scored seven of Wales’ 11 qualification goals. The world’s most expensive player will look to put Slovakia to the sword with dazzling dribbles, close control and his devastating speed.
After a 58-year wait to play in a major tournament, Wales will not be going just to make up the numbers. Coleman took over in difficult circumstances following the death of Gary Speed in 2011. Although he struggled in the early stages of his tenure, Coleman has now won over the Welsh fans and is in talks to extend his contract beyond the European Championship.
Slovakia will be appearing at just their second major tournament in 11 attempts since gaining independence in 1993. They qualified for the Euro 2016 finals after winning their first six qualifiers, including a 2-1 home victory against holders Spain.
However, one point from their next three matches left them level on points with Ukraine before a 4-2 win over Luxembourg sealed second spot. Former Czechoslovakia international Jan Kozak was appointed in July 2013. The 62-year-old had previously managed several Slovakian league clubs, and now he will look to do his best with this dynamic Slovakian side on the world stage.
Little is expected of Slovakia in only their second international tournament, but very little was expected in their first – the 2010 World Cup – and they ended up knocking Italy out and progressing to the Round of 16.
They’re tactically versatile, can adapt their shape to suit any situation, and they boast one of Europe’s top playmakers – Marek Hamsik. The Napoli and Slovakia captain is the national side’s driving force. The attacking midfielder topped the scoring charts along with Spain’s Pacer Alcacer in qualifying with five goals, and he will be eager build on that, to give his team a chance of qualifying for the knockout rounds.
Verdict: Draw 19/10
There was plenty of goals between Wales and Slovakia when they last faced each other in the 2008 Euro qualifiers, and I expect this encounter to be no different given each team’s lack of experience in the competition. An end-to-end game of attacking football is predicted, with the draw a likely result.