By Jacque Talbot
With only a few weeks to go, France will soon play host to the UEFA European Championship 2016. This is the first Euro tournament that will have 24 competing teams, expanding from the previous 16 teams used since England hosted the competition in 1996. As usually happens before a major tournament, the mood across the nation is optimistic, diehard English footie fans perhaps refusing to think about the inevitable heartbreak of defeat. So, in keeping with that spirit, Humanity Hallows takes a look at England’s, and their opponents’, chances of progression in the Group Stage:
The England National Team were victorious in all of their Qualifying Group matches, yet an unconvincing 2014 World Cup display is still etched in the nation’s memory. This year, there is a somewhat transitional squad with unlikely heroes Danny Drinkwater and Jamie Vardy becoming an integral part of England’s 2016 new look, with Rooney, although England’s all-time leading scorer, seeming to have become an afterthought in the discussion of who to play up front. Rooney has recently stated his ambitions to take on a deeper role if the coach needs it – this being either a tactical statement by Wayne, or a statement in which he feels he’ll be serving his country in the best way. With Roy Hodgson looking to further his stay as England’s head coach, will a group stage progression be enough?
Key player: Harry Kane
Predicted Group Stage Position: 1st
Ex-England coach Fabio Capello (remember him?) was sacked as Russia’s head coach last June, with Leonid Slutsky subsequently taking the reins. Russia don’t have much of a commendable record in the Euros, only getting past the group stage once and most notably with their semi-final place in Euro 2008. The Russians came 2nd in their Group Qualifying with 8 points off 1st but they looked shaky as they were defeated by teams such as Austria twice. It seems highly unlikely that the Tricolours will make it to the knockouts.
Key player: Artyom Dzyuba
Predicted Group Stage Position: 3rd
Chris Colman’s team boasted the strongest defence in the Qualifying Group matches. Their midfield has well-known Premier League stars in the likes of Swansea’s Ashley Williams, Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey and Liverpool’s Joe Allen. The team usually implements a counter-attacking style which will rely heavily on the pace of transfer-record busting Gareth Bale. This will be the team’s first major tournament in almost 60 years, as they have not reached a finals competition since 1958. It is perhaps felt that they may leave the tournament as deserved winners regardless of their position, but they will be looking for victory.
Key Player: Gareth Bale
Predicted Group Stage Position: 2nd
Jan Kozak’s team stormed the opening 6 games of the Qualifying Group stage handing defeats to sides such as Ukraine and Spain. The latter stages of the group showed Slovakia’s weakness in handling tournament pressure, as they couldn’t manage a win in three, graduating to the Group Stage by default. This is only Slovakia’s second major tournament, their first being in the 2010 World Cup where they knocked out the defending champions Italy and progressed to Round 16. It could be argued that this team is the group’s dark horse, but their lack of will and consistency will possibly be exploited by the other teams.
Key Player: Marek Hamsik
Predicted Group Stage Position: 4th
Some key dates of this year’s tournament are:
SATURDAY 11TH JUNE
Wales 17:00 Slovakia
Matmut Atlantique, Bordeaux – BBC TV, 5 LIV
England 20:00 Russia
Stade Vélodrome, Marseille – ITV, 5 LIVE
WEDNESDAY 15TH JUNE
Russia 14:00 Slovakia
Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille – BBC TV, 5 LIVE
THURSDAY 16TH JUNE
England 14:00 Wales
Stade Felix Bollaert-Delelis, Lens – BBC TV, 5 LIVE
MONDAY 20TH JUNE
Russia 20:00 Wales
Stadium Municipal, Toulouse, Toulouse – ITV, 5 LIVE
MONDAY 20TH JUNE
Slovakia 20:00 England
Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne – ITV, 5 LIVE
For more information about the European Championship schedule, see the BBC Sports website