England face Russia in their Euro 2016 Group F opener inside Marseille’s Stade Velodrome on Saturday night, with Roy Hodgson’s Three Lions looking to make a perfect start to their tournament.
All eyes will be on Hodgson’s formation and team selection after an attack-minded squad was brought to France. Although England won their three warm-up games, none of the performances were convincing, with the manager seemingly struggling to accommodate all the players he wants on the pitch in roles that suit them.
Against Portugal last time out, he included Wayne Rooney behind Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, plus Dele Alli in a wider, deeper midfield role. Hodgson’s insistence on including Rooney causes him a real problem of how to get the best out of Kane, Vardy and Alli, and is something he must resolve quickly.
Meanwhile, Russia’s preparations for the tournament have been far from ideal, with coach Leonid Slutsky’s side having failed to win any of their last three matches. In addition, key attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev is absent from the squad after breaking a metatarsal last month.
England breezed through the qualification process and were the only country to win all ten of their group fixtures. They conceded just three goals in the process and scored 31, though 11 of these were against minnows San Marino.
The Russians didn’t find things quite so easy however and only confirmed automatic qualification ahead of Sweden in their last group game. They were beaten home and away by surprise package Austria, and could only muster a draw at home to bottom side Moldova.
Saturday’s match in Marseille is just the third competitive meeting between the two sides. England and Russia both registered home victories in Euro 2008 qualifying as Steve McClaren’s side famously failed to qualify for the tournament in Austria and Switzerland.
England have only scored 10 goals in their last 11 major tournament matches, encompassing the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and Euro 2012; a record that clearly needs significant improvement if the Three Lions are to progress much past the group stage. They failed to qualify from their World Cup group in Brazil two years ago after not managing a victory in their three games.
Russia will also want to erase disappointing memories from 2014 as they also failed to register a victory, despite landing in a group with Algeria and South Korea. In Euro 2012 they resoundingly beat the Czech Republic 4-1 in their opening game yet still managed to crash out in the group stage after losing 1-0 to Greece in their final match.
England are expected to have a full squad to choose from, with only left-back Ryan Bertrand a potential doubt. Chris Smalling limped out of training during the week and was seen with an ice pack on his knee afterwards, but the Manchester United defender has played down any possible problem.
Russia have been beset with injuries in the run up the tournament, and three more players missed training this week and are doubts. Experienced defender Vasili Berezutski, and midfielders Dmitri Torbinski and Denis Glushakov, all face a race against time to make their country’s opening game of these Euros.
FIFA World Ranking: England – 11th; Russia – 29th
Best European Championship Finish: England – Third (1968); Russia – Semi-Finals (2008)
Previous Meeting: Russia 2-1 England (October 17, 2007 – Euro 2008 qualifier)
Form: England – WWLWWW; Russia – WLWLLD
Key Men: England – Wayne Rooney; Russia – Aleksandr Kokorin
Shoot Says: England 2-1 Russia