Stars come out to headline Group B of Euro 2016, but will they be enough to advance?

Is there a sexier group in this European Championships than Group B? No way man…you’ve got debutant Wales paired up with its Great Britain partners England. You’ve got big names like Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Marek Hamšík. You’ve also got some really underrated national teams overall.

Question is, can this group live up to all the hype and hoopla that has come with the names and the storylines we’ve all heard about since the draw was announced?

Let’s find out what this group has in store for us all.

The Teams (odds according to bwin.com)

England — 11th in the FIFA Rankings — Best finish in the Euros: Third Place (1968) — 10/1 odds to win
Russia — 29th in the FIFA Rankings — Best finish in the Euros: Winner (1960 *as Soviet Union) – 67/1 odds to win
Slovakia — 24th in the FIFA Rankings — Best finish in the Euros: Winner (1976 *as Czechoslovakia) — 151/1 odds to win
Wales — 26th in the FIFA Rankings — Best finish in the Euros: 1st appearance — 81/1 odds to win

 

Best goalkeeper — Joe Hart, England

The Manchester City stalwart is also the same for England, having been the first-choice keeper for his national team for the better part of six years now. He’s a rock in the back for this team and there is a serious lack of competition at the position from the rest of the group.

While Igor Akinfeev of Russia is a good keeper for the system Russia will play, it is hard not to forget his blunder against South Korea at the last World Cup.

Best outfield player — Gareth Bale, Wales

Good luck picking just one player, but that was our task. With names like Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Martin Skrtel and Marek Hamšík in the mix it, wasn’t all that easy. However, few players have meant more to the effort of qualifying for this European Championship than Bale. After all, he did score nine of Wales’ 11 goals in qualifying.

He also happens to be one of the best players on the current Champions League winners, Real Madrid. Bale has become much more than just a fast player with a lethal left foot, and that growth is also what led him to nearly single-handily dragging Wales to this championship appearance.

Player to watch — Dele Alli, England

There wasn’t a brighter young player in the English Premier League this past season than Tottenham’s Alli, and that performance has him playing on the biggest stage of his short international career. Hopes are high for England to go far in this tournament (even if fans are holding their breath too), and Ali is a key reason for that thanks to his flare and quality in attacking.

While this is the biggest stage he has seen internationally, don’t be surprised to see him rise to the occasion here like he has everywhere else in his career up to date.

Most important game — Russia vs. Slovakia

Everyone is going to be talking about the matchup between the two members of Great Britain, but this group is far more loaded than most realize and if anyone is going to challenge for a spot outside of those two teams this is a must-win game. In fact, it may be the only “must-win” game in the first two sets of contests. Both Russia and Slovakia need full points in this one in order to hope that nicking a point against the “bigger” sides would be enough to get through the group.

Take a loss and no points? Kiss your tournament goodbye most likely.

Biggest story line — Is England a Real Contender?

Few countries have the footballing history of England, and few countries have failed as bad as England has when expectations are high. They couldn’t be much higher than right now, largely thanks to a huge influx of youthful talent that are producing inside the EPL for clubs fighting at the top of the league.

Names like Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Jamie Vardy, Eric Dier, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker and Adam Lallana give this squad such a different look than last we saw it at a major international tournament. England fans and the bettors believe this is the best chance they’ve had in awhile.

Will they live up to expectations or flame out in classic English style?

 

Teams to move on — England and Slovakia

Yes, England and Wales are the sexy teams in this group, but the way tournaments like this often provide surprises. Just ask fellow group member, Slovakia, which surprised everyone en route to a round of 16 berth in its first World Cup ever last time out. This group is geared towards great play in tournaments like this because it can adapt its lineup so well based on opponent and situation, and that gets them through this group.

Wales comes out and tries to serve up Gareth Bale time and again, but that won’t work with the more elite teams in the tournament. This isn’t Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus and Israel anymore, and the defenses will be better equipped to handle the Welsh wonder.

 

Schedule (all times Eastern)

 

Saturday, June 11

Wales vs. Slovakia, Noon, ESPN
England vs. Russia, 3 p.m., ESPN

Wednesday, June 15

Russia vs. Slovakia, 9 a.m., ESPN

Thursday, June 16

England vs. Wales, 9 a.m., ESPN

Monday, June 20

Russia vs. Wales, 3 p.m., ESPN2
England vs. Slovakia, 3 p.m., ESPN

 

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a contributor to The Comeback as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10. He also is a member of the FWAA and has been covering college sports since 2011. Andy is an avid soccer fan and runs the Celtic FC site The Celtic Bhoys. If he's not writing about sports, you can find him enjoying them in front of the TV with a good beer!

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