With the 2016 UEFA Euro Championship right around the corner, all eyes will be on France starting June 10, 2016, through July 10, 2016.
Many people think this group is England's to walk away with even before a ball has been kicked. To them I say, "not so fast." This is a very tricky group to navigate through, and one slip up could be the difference between advancing top of the group or scraping through in third.
Here are your four nations comprising Group B. Futures odds provided by Bovada .
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England, or "The Three Lions," as they are known, come into this tournament as fourth favorites on the betting board (+750). They are behind the likes of France, Germany and Spain but ahead of Belgium, Italy and Portugal. This is a very gifted team up front with an abundance of strikers to lead the front line. However, the problem lies in defense. England is currently -140 to win Group B, and I don't think you can play them at that price.
How they got here:
It was pretty much tea-time for England during their qualifying matches for Euro 2016. The only real threat was Switzerland - yet they handled them 2-0 on both occasions. They scored 31 goals and conceded only 3, which resulted in a perfect 10 wins from 10 matches. Results like those only raise expectations, and that normally spells disaster for a nation who fails every chance they get.
Coach Roy Hodgson has many decisions to make regarding this year's squad. He has two preferred formations available to him to deploy. The 4-4-2 consisting of a diamond midfield or the wider 4-3-3 formation that covers the wings. England has a lot of options up front with the likes of Harry Kane (EPL top goal scorer), Jamie Vardy (EPL winner, second in goal scoring), Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli. They should be fine scoring goals, but the problem lies on their back line. They will need Joe Hart to be up to the task each time they take to the pitch.
10 wins from 10 qualifying matches. A slew of young, hungry, talented attacking players. That has to be the recipe for higher-than-normal expectations. Yet the only word I can use to describe England fans right now is "hopeful". They hope the young players are mature enough to handle the big stage, and they would love nothing more than at least a spot in the quarterfinals. Anything further and they will be proud of their boys instead of disappointed.
Not to long ago Russia bust onto the scene with an attacking style of football that was chaotic and not maintainable over the long run. The results of such soccer were only one foray past the group stage of a Euro Championship. This year they enter with a new coach and are long shots to win the tournament at +6600. The real value may lie with Russia to win the group stage at +325. They have the defense to contain England and a striker who has a knack for nicking a goal here and there.
How they got here:
Russia's qualifying campaign got off to an abysmal start. Under Fabio Capello, the Russians took only eight points from their first six matches. After he was replaced, they won their remaining four games on the schedule and qualified in second position, just ahead of third-place Sweden. Their defense was solid, conceding only five goals in 10 matches despite losing twice to Austria.
Under new head coach Leonid Slutsky, this Russian team has come together very well. The former CSKA Moscow coach is familiar with most of his squad and the mentality Russian soccer must have in order to succeed. He will likely choose to go with a standard 4-2-3-1 formation, which allows his team to control the midfield while not over exerting themselves.
Expectations should be high for this Russian team. They are hosting the 2018 World Cup and heading into that on the heels of a failure this year would not be the best scenario. They are in a tricky group, but I expect them to qualify for the knockout stages. They won't have what it takes to beat a group winner should they finish third, but anything is possible with a first- or second-place finish.
This is Slovakia's first European Championship and only their second major tournament. They are certainly priced as outsiders given their +15000 odds to win the tournament and +900 line to top Group B. They will be relying on Napoli hitman Marek Hamsik to lead the way to produce a shock upset. They will be hard pressed to take all three points, but holding Russia or Wales to a draw would go a long way for morale.
How they got here:
Their qualifying campaign got off to a rocking start. They beat Ukraine on the road and then shocked the Spaniards with a 2-1 home victory. They were able to propel those results into a second-place finish and automatic qualification. The only major setback was a home defeat to Belarus.
This team boasts a lack of experience and pace within the starting 11. Only Martin Skrtl and Marek Hamsik know what it's like to play in big games in Europe. They will likely resort to a 4-4-2 formation, which should clog up the middle of the pitch and frustrate the creativity-challenged teams. Hamsik will have to net at least a brace (two goals) if they are to take three points from any match.
There are none. I say that in the nicest way possible. They are the weak link of the group and would love to get a point to satisfy themselves. They should likely finish last in this group and will use France as a vacation away from home.
It has been 58 long years since Wales competed in a major international tournament, and should they fail to live up to a solid qualifying campaign they could be headed home after just three games. Wales is +5000 to win the tournament and a pricey +600 to win Group B. It's not all that unlikely for such a feat to happen, but they will need Gareth Bale to live up to this billing as the most expensive player in world football.
How they got here
Wales qualified in second place ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which relegated the latter to the playoff round and ultimate heartbreak. Wales was able to take four points off of Belgium, which is impressive given the form Belgium has of late. A 0-0 draw in Brussels and a 1-0 win at home was enough to get them on track for this years Euro tournament.
It's a 4-4-2 that is almost set up like a 4-2-3-1. They play a diamond shape in the middle of the park to limit the amount of times they are outmanned on or off the ball. They key player is obviously Bale, who seems to play best when dawning a Wales jersey. He is a match winner on his own and could change the complexion of a game in a hurry. It will be up to the midfield to supply him enough good balls to make use of.
They will likely be the darlings of the tournament and should expect a solid performance with great support from the crowds. Expectations can only go so far before optimism for the future kicks in. Yes, they had a good run in qualifying - yes they are in a group where they should pip second or third spot - but let's use this as building for the future. International experience is hard to come by, and this year's tournament should serve as that. Expect them in the knockout stage, but don't get too excited after that.
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