England get their Euro 2016 campaign under way with a Group B clash against Russia this weekend (8pm Saturday on ITV1). Here is our match preview, culminating in a couple of advised betting tips.
Roy Hodgson’s men head into the tournament on the back of three straight victories in warm-up friendlies with Turkey, Australia and Portugal having already qualified with an impressive 100 per cent winning record.
The emergence of youngsters Eric Dier (pictured), Harry Kane and Dele Alli, as well as the older newcomer Jamie Vardy, has raised the levels of optimism among England supporters, who will be hoping that the shortcomings of the so-called Golden Generation will no longer act as a burden above the team’s head.
Progression to the round of 16 should be straightforward – even more so now that the competition features 24 rather than 16 teams – but England probably do not have enough quality right across the pitch to be able to pick up the trophy next month.
Russia’s realistic ambition will be simply to make it out of the group and into the knockout stage, although a kind draw could potentially bring a spot in the quarter-finals. Leonid Slutsky turned the qualifying campaign around after some poor results under Fabio Capello, with Russia going on to finish as runners-up behind Austria in Group G. They will be desperate to improve on their international record since impressively reaching the last four at Euro 2008. After failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2010, the Russians crashed out in the group stage at both Euro 2012 and the World Cup in Brazil two years ago.
The big selection issue for England concerns Wayne Rooney, who as captain will surely start despite the lack of a natural place for him in the XI. The Manchester United man, Kane and Vardy all began the clash with Portugal, but England lacked fluency going forward for long periods of that game as the trio failed to demonstrate any sort link-up play or connection.
Rooney ended the club campaign playing in a midfield role and is likely to do the same again this summer, although a spot on the left flank is another possibility. Dier will anchor the midfield and Tottenham team-mate Alli will also be pushing for a start in the engine room, while it remains unclear which of Kyle Walker or Nathaniel Clyne will be on Hodgson’s team sheet at right-back, with left-back Ryan Bertrand a doubt.
Russia have been unfortunate with injuries in the build-up to Euro 2016, with key midfield men Alan Dzagoev and Igor Denisov both sidelined in recent weeks. The primary concern for Slutsky’s side is the ageing backline, with centre-backs Vasili Berezutski and Sergei Ignashevich now 33 and 36 respectively. The lack of speed in the heart of the defence will see Russia sit very deep without the ball, with the likes of Aleksandr Kokorin, Roman Shirokov and Oleg Shatov set to be tasked with leading the attacking transitions.
Our Preview’s England v Russia Betting Tips
Dzagoev and Denisov are big losses for Russia, and their absence only increases the likelihood of England getting off to a winning start in Marseille. Hodgson’s charges may have to remain patient early on as the Russians dig in, stand off and attempt to frustrate, but if England make the breakthrough it is difficult to look past a comfortable victory by two or three clear goals.
The first strike could be vital on Saturday: if England get it, Russia will be forced to engage higher up the pitch, but if Russia get their noses in front then there could be ample space for them on the counter as England push for an equaliser. In terms of the first goalscorer market, Kane – the favourite – is worth backing. So here are our match preview’s betting tips selection: