England boss Roy Hodgson has to be ecstatic after seeing who England have been drawn against at next summer’s Euro 2016. The Three Lions have been drawn against Wales, Russia and Slovakia in a very winnable group.
If they do win the group England will plays a third-placed team in the Round of 16 and even if they come in second, they will play the second-placed side from Group F in the last 16 and not a group winner. So England’s expectations should be to at least reach the quarter-finals of the tournament.
The group matches will have a familiar feel to them for England fans as they’ll be travelling to Marseille, St Etienne and Lens, mirroring France 98.
Wales will be the toughest game, with the difficulties England have endured with genuine quality under Roy Hodgson, the thought of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey pulling strings will not fill the Three Lions with confidence.
But Slovakia and Russia (the latter the opening match) are eminently beatable. If England really want to make their mark on the tournament they really need to be topping the group, but progression of any sort is in no doubt – even with their chronic recent track record.
England’s Euro 2016 Opponents:
Euro 2016 prospects: Winless at the 2014 World Cup, Russia’s fortunes have improved since Fabio Capello’s sacking in July this year. Replacement Leonid Slutsky reinforced the defence with players from Champions League regulars CSKA Moscow, who he also manages.
How they qualified: They claimed only eight points from six games under Capello but won their remaining four with Slutsky at the helm, including a vital win over Sweden to pip them to automatic qualification.
Euro pedigree: Winners as the Soviet Union in 1960, and finalists in 1964, 1972 and 1988. A run to the semi-finals in 2008 is their best performance since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1991.
Key player: Sergei Ignashevich. Russia’s rock is now 36 but he remains vital. The CSKA Moscow defender helped Russia keep five clean sheets in the nine qualifiers he played in.
Premier League players: None.
Who’s the boss? Leonid Slutsky was rewarded for rescuing Russia’s Euro 2016 campaign with a contract until after the finals.
Euro 2016 prospects: After a 58-year wait to play in a major tournament, Wales will not be going just to make up the numbers. Gareth Bale’s goals propelled them to France, but captain and defensive rock Ashley Williams is equally as important.
How they qualified: They lost just once, away to Bosnia-Herzegovina, and conceded four goals – only Romania, England and Spain let in fewer. Bale and Aaron Ramsey scored nine of Wales’ 11 goals.
Euro pedigree: Debutants at a ‘finals’. Reached the quarter-finals in 1976, when only the semi-finals onwards were regarded as the finals.
Key player: Things aren’t going quite so well at club level, but the world’s most expensive player can do no wrong for Wales. He recently stopped driving luxury sports cars as they were causing him hamstring problems.
Premier League players: Joe Allen (Liverpool), James Chester (West Brom), James Collins (West Ham), Ben Davies (Tottenham), Wayne Hennessey and Joe Ledley (both Crystal Palace), Andy King (Leicester), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Neil Taylor and Ashley Williams (both Swansea).
Who’s the boss? Chris Coleman took over in difficult circumstances following the death of Gary Speed in 2011. Booed regularly at the start of his tenure, with a 6-1 World Cup qualifying defeat in Serbia the nadir of poor results early on, Coleman is now in talks to extend his contract beyond 2016.
Euro 2016 prospects: Slovakia will be appearing at just their second major tournament in 11 attempts since gaining independence in 1993. They reached the last 16 at the 2010 World Cup, helping to knock out Italy in the group stages. They also beat Spain in qualifying for Euro 2016 so are not afraid to mix it with the big boys.
How they qualified: Slovakia won their first six qualifiers, including a 2-1 home victory against holders Spain. However, one point from their next three matches left them level on points with Ukraine before a 4-2 win over Luxembourg sealed second spot.
Euro pedigree: This is their first appearance.
Key player: Premier League player: Martin Skrtel (Liverpool).
Who’s the boss? Former Czechoslovakia international Jan Kozak was appointed in July 2013. The 61-year-old had previously managed several Slovakian league clubs.
England 2016 Euro Fixtures
Saturday, June 11: England v Russia (20:00, Stade Velodrome, Marseille) – Buy Euro 2016 Tickets
Thursday, June 16: England v Wales (14:00, Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens) – Buy Euro 2016 Tickets
Monday, June 20: Slovakia v England (20:00, Stade Geoffroy Guichard, St Etienne) – Buy Euro 2016 Tickets
Match 2: Winner D v Third-place B/E/F (20:00, June 25, Lens) – Buy Euro 2016 Tickets
Match 3: Winner B v Third-place A/C/D (17:00, June 25, Paris) – Buy Euro 2016 Tickets
Match 5: Winner C v Third-place A/B/F (17:00, June 26, Lille) – Buy Euro 2016 Tickets
Match 7: Winner A v Third-place C/D/E (14:00, June 27, Lyon) – Buy Euro 2016 Tickets
Match 8: Runner-up B v Runner-up F (20:00, June 27, Nice) – Buy Euro 2016 Tickets
Winner Match 1 v Winner Match 2 (20:00, June 30, Marseille) – Buy Euro 2016 Tickets
Winner Match 3 v Winner Match 4 (2000, July 1, Lille) – Buy Euro 2016 Tickets
Winner Match 5 v Winner Match 6 (20:00, July 2, Bordeaux – Buy Euro 2016 Tickets
Winner Match 7 v Winner Match 8 (2000, July 3, St-Denis – Buy Euro 2016 Tickets
Winner SF1 v Winner SF2 (20:00, July 10, St-Denis) – Buy Euro 2016 Tickets