Euro 2016 Predictions: Group B Could Be Gareth Bale's Chance to Shine Against England & Russia
Group B of the 2016 Euro is undeniably one of the more fascinating to keep an eye on with four teams capable of getting out of the group and making it to the knockout stages.
In fact, as it stands, this group has no bonafide favorite, which should make for some interesting drama.
The Three Lions will undoubtedly be seen as the favorites, in name at least. Roy Hodgson's side has been the most successful by far over the course of the last few decades and enters the tournament looking to regain some respect.
The English has not had a strong tournament showing since 1996 when it hosted the Euro. Since then it has been a mixed bag of early exits in both the World Cup and Euro. The team struggled in the 2014 World Cup, getting eliminated in the first round. In the 2012 Euro, the team team got out of the quarterfinals and got dispatched by Italy in penalties.
But this outfit is brimming with quality from Joe Hart in goal to Harry Kane, Jamie Vardie up top. Wayne Rooney is still on the team though his stature is in question given the rise of some fresh new talent.
Of the four teams, England is probably the deepest but the team has been playing a poor brand of soccer over the last few years and there are concerns that this team may not have what it takes for a deep run. That said, its play in recent years has been up and down with the team winning eight of its last 12 but losing two of its last three. England's biggest win in that stretch was a 3-2 win over the defending World Cup champion Germany.
Will Russia Choke Yet Again?
Russia has had a tough time in recent decades. Despite a semifinal finish in 2008's Euro, the team has failed to get out of the Group stage in every other tournament that it has been a part of. The 2014 World Cup was a disaster for the Russians as they were favorites in what was seen as a rather favorable group, but finished third and missed a huge chance to make a deep run.
The team had a strong qualification round, but there are still a lot of question marks over this group's ability to come up big in big moments. The two Aleksandr's (Kokorin and Kerzhakov) are the big men up front, both combining for 41 goals all time for the Russians. This is likely the 33-year-old Kerzhakov's final hurrah and the team will do its best to give him something to cheer about.
Igor Akinfeev is likely the man in the net, but he will have to put in a far stronger effort than he did in Brazil a few years ago; he gave up some costly and questionable goals in 2014 that led to Russia's failure.
Two Wild Cards
Wales had a dominant qualifying round thanks to the supreme effort of Gareth Bale. The Real Madrid superstar scored seven goals in leading his nation to its first ever Euro tournament and second major tournament in history. Bale has had injury problems over the course of the year and he will need to be in top form if Wales is to make a deep run. Judging from the performances in qualifying, this team is very capable of being a surprising group.
Slovakia meanwhile has a solid qualification round, defeating Spain early on and holding the top spot in Group C for most of the run. The team slowed down near the end of the tournament, but still managed a second place finish over Ukraine. This team does not have any major superstar but is comprised of a collection of solid players overall.
There is no doubt that no player in this group more capable of carrying his team on his own than Bale. The Madrid talisman can score goals, but his tremendous speed and playmaking makes him a versatile weapon. He has found another gear this year, taking over games on his own at times.
England has a record off 66 wins, 21 draws and 14 losses against Wales. The team has won all three games it has contested against Slovakia and has one win and one loss against Russia.
Wales and Slovakia have met ones, a 0-0 draw in 2005. Against Russia, the team has a record of no wins, one draw and three losses.
Russia has defeated Slovakia three times, tied three games and lost two.
England's overall record against every team in the tournament is 70-21-15.
Russia's record is 7-3-3 while Wales has a record of 14-23-69. Slovakia's record is 2-4-2.
Wales wins the group on a strong effort from Bale while England finishes second. Russia gets a third spot, but continues its big tournament struggles.