England will be keen on making sure they avoid another unpleasant surprise this time around when they take on Russia at the Stade Vélodrome on Saturday.
The last time England took on Russia was back in 2007, when the two sides were battling for a spot at Euro 2008. And things turned out on a rather sour note for the Three Lions, who ultimately failed to make the cut after finishing third behind group winners Croatia and Russia. Much, naturally, has changed since then. Current captain Wayne Rooney is the only survivor from that team from nearly nine years ago, and they will be coming into this match having cruised to a perfect ten wins out of ten in qualifiers.
Since their dismal World Cup 2014 campaign, England have been in good form. There were defeats to Spain and the Netherlands along the way, but there was also an impressive 3-2 fightback against Germany as well as a 2-0 shutout of Euro 2016 hosts France. However, there are major concerns. For starters, how Roy Hodgson will use Rooney, Harry Kane, and Jamie Vardy is a question on many fans’ minds. Against Portugal, the English tactician attempted to used his captain at the tip of a midfield diamond – but to limited effect. Rooney was so far up the pitch that he even appeared to be more of a center forward, and the team overall labored against Portugal until Chris Smalling settled things with a late, late goal.
Not exactly encouraging reading heading into this tournament, but England at least have every one of their key players healthy and ready to feature. The same cannot be said for Russia. Leonid Slutsky will be without the services of Alan Dzagoev and Igor Denisov due to injury, thus robbing them of a creative option in the middle of the park and a versatile defensive choice following Denisov’s departure from the squad last week.
Russia, who are hosting the 2018 World Cup, will want to use Euro 2016 to measure how they have progressed and how much improvement they have to do. To date, Euro 2008 has been the only tournament they have managed to clear the group stages, during which they made a run to the semi-finals. Although they will be determined, their progression chances have been dealt a huge blow due to two key men missing out.
However, all may not be lost. England, who will be making their ninth Euro appearance, have never started out well. In fact, the Three Lions have yet to win their opening match, with four losses and four draws to date.
Will they be able to finally end this bad spell? England are also the only team to have made so many appearances and have failed to win the Euro title. Meanwhile, Russia, viewed as underdogs, will be hoping to cause some problems of their own.