Mark O’Haire’s Euro Tips – England v Russia
England became only the fifth nation ever to seal a place at the European Championships with a 100% qualification record but that unblemished return will count for nothing unless the Three Lions perform in their tournament opener against Russia on Saturday.
England v Russia, Saturday 11th June 20.00, ITV1
Roy Hodgson’s side breezed through a soft qualification group and now have their sights set on topping Group B with a fresh and vibrant young squad that’s statistically the youngest in France this summer.
So often overbacked and underpriced, England supporters can afford to be optimistic and enthusiastic about the side’s chances this summer with a far from fearsome route to the semi-finals. And the Three Lions should be capable of starting their campaign with three points here.
England have a torrid record in tournament openers – winning just two of their last 11 first fixtures at major competitions and failing to ever record a victory in their opening Euros encounter (W0-D4-L4). But at odds of 20/23, the pre-match favourites shouldn’t be ignored on this occasion.
Hodgson’s troops are at their most potent when playing at pace, pressing high and breaking fast on the counter-attack and that approach could pay dividends against a Russian side severely lacking speed in defence.
Sbornaya boss Leonid Slutsky must decide whether to curb his attacking instincts and sit deep to protect his creaking centre-halves Vasili Berezutski (33) and Sergei Ignashevich (36), or to play on the front foot with his limited group. I suspect he’ll take the former approach.
The Sbornaya were far from convincing en-route to France.
Exclude games against Moldova and Russia scored just 10 goals in eight qualifiers.
That in spite of facing no major nation in their qualification pool as well as the likes of Liechtenstein and Montenegro.
And to make matters worse, injuries have robbed Slutsky of two key components in central midfield with defensive shield Igor Denisov and playmaker Alan Dzagoev crocked in the past few weeks.
The Russians will look to 6ft 5in Zenit striker Artem Dzyuba for inspiration – the beanpole forward scored eight goals en-route to France – six of which came under Slutsky’s leadership. But it should be noted, seven of those goals came against minnows Liechtenstein and Moldova.
Despite concluding qualification with four successive victories, recent results haven’t filled fans with confidence, either. The Sbornaya’s only triumph in five came against Lithuania and their lack of game-changers has become apparent; Russia have lost all five fixtures when failing to score in competitive games since Euro 2012.
If England have any sense, they’ll look to dominate the ball and play at a good tempo. Defensively the Three Lions remain far from convincing and Eric Dier’s task will prove pivotal in protecting the back-four but England possess the pace, tools and potential to win this match and they should oblige.
Across the last three major tournaments England have W3-D4-L2 but the Group B favourites arrive in form (five wins from seven) and can justify their odds-on position with a first ever opening game win in European Championships.
If you’re looking for a bigger bang for your buck, the Score Groups market offers a slice of value; England to win 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 can be snapped up at 7/4 with 64/120 (53%) of group-stage games at the Euros since 1996 being covered across those three correct scores previously.
England to win @ 20/23
England to win 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 @ 7/4
*Prices correct at time of publication.