EURO 2016 preview, Group B: England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia

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England

Rollicked through qualifying to avoid repeating the ignominy of missing the 2008 tournament. Made the semis of the 1996 tournament.

Game schedule:

June 11 — vs. Russia at Stade Velodrome in Marseille
June 16 — vs. Wales at Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens
June 20 — vs. Slovakia at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne

Star player: Harry Kane. We knew he could finish, but this Premier League showed he’s a fine playmaker who can dominate a game.

This is the year: The attacking depth of England is out of this world, and the pressure put on defenses by Jamie Vardy, Ross Barkley and Dele Alli will be something to behold.

But you have to stop teams: Joe Hart may have to shine behind a suspect group of center backs. Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill can do a job, but if it falls to John Stones after this season at Everton? Knockout rounds at home.


Russia

In the days of the Soviet Union national team, there were four finals and a title (1960). Under Russia, the nation has failed to qualify once, been bounced at the group stage thrice… and gone to a semi (2008).

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 21: Artyom Dzyuba and Aleksandr Kokorin of FC Zenit St. Petersburg celebrate after scoring a goal during the Russian Premier League match between FC Dinamo Moscow and FC Zenit St. Petersburg at the Arena Khimki Stadium on May 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia.  (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)
Artyom Dzyuba and Aleksandr Kokorin of FC Zenit St. Petersburg (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 11 — vs. England at Stade Velodrome in Marseille
June 15 — vs. Slovakia at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille
June 20 — vs. Wales at Stadium Municipal in Toulouse

Star player: Artyom Dzyuba — The 27-year-old Zenit striker averages a goal every other appearance for country, and scored 15 goals in the Russian League this year.

Why Russia can make a sneaky run: All but one of the players plays in Russia, and many play together on the giants of the league. Chemistry will not be an issue.

That’s one old back line, though: The defense is wise, but can it handle the pace of a Gareth Bale or Raheem Sterling?


Wales

Wales has been to one World Cup (1958), but this is their Euro debut.

Wales’ Gareth Bale (David Davies/PA via AP)

Game schedule:

June 11 — vs. Slovakia at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux in Bordeaux
June 16 — vs. Wales at Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens
June 20 — vs. Russia at Stadium Municipal in Toulouse

Star player: Gareth Bale. The ex-Spurs man makes everyone around him, from Aaron Ramsey to Joe Allen, more dangerous.

If Bale keeps winning spirit in Wales, the two-time UEFA Champions League victor could be talking about a surprise deep run in France.

The depth, though, of this tricky group means failing to pick up three points against Slovakia in the opener could spell doomsday.


Slovakia

First Euro. Made the World Cup in 2010, but failed to qualify in 2010.

TRNAVA, SLOVAKIA - MARCH 25:  Marek Hamsik of Slovakia runs with the ball during the international friendly match between Slovakia and Latvia held at Stadion Antona Malatinskeho on March 25, 2016 in Trnava, Slovakia.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Marek Hamsik of Slovakia (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 11 — vs. Wales at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux in Bordeaux
June 15 — vs. Russia at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille
June 20 — vs. England at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne

Star player: Marek Hamsik. The Napoli man is capable of literally anything with the ball in his control.

Why not? Unbeaten in eight, Slovakia has knocked off Germany, Switzerland and Iceland during the stretch. Captain Martin Skrtel stands behind a readied attack.

This a brutal group, and Slovakia can’t afford to slip up once. Expecting to emerge from the group stage is a lofty plan.


Who’s going through, who’s going home: England and Russia go through but nothing is decided until the final day.

Marquee match: The Wales and England match on June 16 in Lens is a must-watch.

Top players to watch: 

  1. Gareth Bale, Wales
  2. Harry Kane, England
  3. Marek Hamsik, Slovakia
  4. Aaron Ramsey, Wales
  5. Jamie Vardy, England