The long wait is over and the circus has come to town. Yes, the Euros are here and a splendid time is guaranteed for all. Or is it?
France have the opener in the bag after a stunning winner from Payet, and here’s our preview of the first full day of action in Euro 2016
Saturday 11th June
14.00 Albania v Switzerland (Group A)
If we know little about Romania, this column is getting close to atomic length in terms of what it knows about Albania. What we can tell you is that this is their first major tournament and, as you might expect, they will likely set themselves up as defensively as possible and hope to make the most of the chances that fall their way.
Interestingly, should Albania’s Taulant Xhaka start the game, he will likely be facing his brother, new Arsenal midfield signing, Granit Xhaka. If the two are anything like most brothers, there could be blood.
Switzerland are the more accomplished team of the two. They have a good smattering of experience and talent in their defense and midfield with the aforementioned Granit standing out along with veteran campaigner Behrami and the mercurial Shaqiri. Their midfield is their strongest card and they will need to exert control in that area to manufacture good chances for their less-than-prolific forward line.
There are interesting dynamics at play between these two teams as a number of Swiss players are of Albanian descent and in Granit Xhaka’s case, it seems his initial desire had been to play for Albania (they were criminally slow to reciprocate in his case before making a move for his brother), a fact that apparently doesn’t sit well with some sections of the Swiss support.
Albania will be fired up for this, their first foray in an international tournament but one suspects that Switzerland have the tools necessary to nail the win. The best price for that is 17/20 from Coral.
17.00 Wales v Slovakia (Group B)
There are handful of teams in this tournament to feature a bona fide world star and Wales are of them. Yes, Hal Robson-Kanu is destined to make this Euro’s his own. Or Gareth Bale. Maybe. There is little doubt that the Real Madrid player is the ace in the Welsh pack and was their standout performer in qualifying. It is not much of an exaggeration to claim that he is one of the few players out there who can win a match on his own and the team has been designed to give him the best chance of doing so.
Slovakia are another team to have a if not world class player then certainly a bloody good one in Marek Hamsic. Their top scorer in the qualifying campaign, it’s been reported that Slovakia coach, Jan Kozak, has brought the best out of the player, affording him a free enough role as the primary attacking midfielder.
Like Wales, Slovakia are in a position which sees them having a player so markedly better than his team mates that it would be remiss to not build the team around him. The flipside here, of course, is that is Bale or Hamsic were to be off their game, well shackled or injured, plan B might only be found at the bottom of a well.
These are two decent teams who need to get the most out of their main men. Slovakia have a fighting reputation and the Welsh will need to match them physically. If they can get some sort of parity, the Bale card might just be enough to get them the win but however it goes, it should be close.
The bookies have it called as a close run thing with SportingBet offering 20/11 for the Slovakia win and Ladbrokes shooting back with 21/20 for Wales to win.
20.00 England v Russia
England come into this tournament as one of the favourites to go all the way. For a country that has been battered for decades by the wretched self-loathing that follows groundless hope, there is genuine belief that this young squad is different and unencumbered by the aimless ennui of past failures. Apart from Rooney, that is.
The Man Utd star is so far from the player that he was that there is no conversation about starting him as a forward. Instead, his role is yet to be confirmed and, in the face of mass bewilderment and annoyance, it seems that England boss, Roy Hodgson, is determined to cram him in somewhere. It’s likely that he will be deployed in the 10 role which will surely mean that Dele Ali will be forced to play away from his best and most effective position.
Russia don’t come into this competition in rude health. Far from it, in fact. Three of their main midfielders have been ruled out through injury, a potentially deadly blow to any team. In their favour, they had been playing with a bit more freedom and verve recently as a result of their parting ways with Italian manager, Fabio Capello. Wayne Rooney and some of the older members of the English squad will sympathise.
England have a great habit of falling flat at tournaments, a problem that is often associated with the fact that theirs is one of the few major European leagues without a winter break. If there is some merit to that charge, one would suspect that it won’t be apparent at the beginning of the tournament. They will be edgy and the Russians won’t make it easy for them but England should win this one. PaddyPower and some others have that outcome at 19/20