Euro 2016 Group B preview: England and Wales to emerge from pool
Sam Barnard, Assistant Sports Editor | June 5, 2016
Group B contains double delight for British football fans, as both England and Wales will be aiming to progress from the Euro 2016 pool that also boasts Russia and Slovakia.
Both the Three Lions and Dragons have much to be positive about ahead of the France finals, after successful qualifying campaigns, and can be backed at 4/1 with Coral to finish first and second respectively.
Read on for our preview and assessment of the group…
History between teams
Being neighbours geographically, it is perhaps not too surprising that England and Wales have faced each other over 100 times now (101 to be exact), and the former have come out on top on 66 occasions to the latter’s 14, with 21 draws.
Their most recent battles came just under five years ago in 2012 European Championship qualifying, where the Three Lions triumphed in both meetings home and away. In fact, England have won each of their last four to nil.
Roy Hodgson will be particularly pleased to know that his nation have winning records against both Russia (W:6 L:4 D:4) and Slovakia (W:3 L:0 D:0) too.
Wales, on the other hand, have not fared well against the Russians, with their only victory from nine duels coming way back in a World Cup qualifier in 1965 when the Eastern Europeans were known as the Soviet Union.
The Dragons and Slovakia, meanwhile, have one win apiece from their two previous meetings.
Finally, Russia (4/1 to finish bottom) just have the edge over Slovakia, having claimed three victories the the Falcons’ two.
While England have suffered a few injuries, they’ll be happy that the majority of their key players are fit and raring to go.
Of the absentees, including Jack Butland, Luke Shaw, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck, perhaps none would have been certain starters anyway.
As for Wales, Dragons fans would have been grimacing at superstar Gareth Bale’s every move in the Champions League final for Real Madrid, particular when he pulled up with cramp in extra-time, but the wing wizard looks on course for their first match.
Despite fears that Joe Ledley would miss out due to a fractured leg, the Crystal Palace midfielder and nation’s vice-captain seems to have made a remarkable recovery, meaning there are no real omissions. Defenders Adam Matthews and Paul Dummett may have something to say about that, though.
Russia head coach Leonid Slutsky has named a very experienced, yet seemingly old, squad for the finals, with two 25-year-old attackers noticeable absentees in particular.
Exciting duo Alan Dzagoev of CSKA Moscow and Valencia loanee Denis Cheryshev suffered injuries just before the finals, and their inclusions would have been a huge help for the Russians.
Experienced pair Yuri Zhirkov and Aleksandr Kerzhakov also failed to make the 23-man squad.
Like Wales, Slovakia be feeling lucky to have all their key players available, including Martin Skrtel, Marek Hamsik, Miroslav Stoch and Vladimir Weiss, with only veteran forward Robert Vittek missing out through injury.
The Falcons, therefore, are tasty 11/10 chances to qualify from Group B.
Previous tournament success
Russia won the first ever European Championship back in 1960, while known as the Soviet Union, and have also reached the final on three further occasions.
Under their current name, however, a semi-final appearance in 2008 is the only time they’ve got past the group stages since their first participation in 1996.
England were hosts in that latter year, and many fans will still remember the penalty pain they suffered after losing to Germany in the semis, thanks to the infamous miss from Gareth Southgate.
The Three Lions have lost at that stage before, back in 1968 too, this time going out to Yugoslavia. They did claim third place, though, defeating Soviet Union thanks to goals from Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst to take the ‘honour’.
Given Wales’ wealth of talent from over the years, it is perhaps a surprise that this is their first ever European Championship participation, though they did reach the 1958 World Cup quarters in their only other major tournament presence.
Slovakia are in unchartered waters too, but did win the 1976 Euros when known as nation Czechoslovakia.
Group B fixtures
Wales v Slovakia, Sunday 11 June, 17:00, BBC One
England v Russia, Sunday 11 June, 20:00, ITV
Russia v Slovakia, Thursday 15 June, 14:00, BBC One
England v Wales, Thursday 16 June, 14:00, BBC One
Russia v Wales, Tuesday 20 June, 20:00, ITV
Slovakia v England, Tuesday 20 June, 20:00, ITV