Portugal outclass directionless Wales

Cristiano Ronaldo rose over Neil Taylor to meet Joao Mario’s looping cross. The ball had come in high, passing over most of the bodies who had amassed in the box and leaving Ronaldo with a perfect match-up at the back post. The Portuguese star had already played a strong game, but he was about to leave his mark on the match. His header into the top corner was just the beginning, and it kicked off a short period which booked Portugal’s spot in the final of Euro 2016.

Over the course of a few minutes Ronaldo transformed the semi-final between Portugal and Wales from an enticing contest into a foregone conclusion. The Portuguese captain scored and provided an assist to put the Welsh two goals down and out of contention. They recovered from a group stage defeat against England, and they recovered after going behind against Belgium, but they would not recover from this. It was over.

Ronaldo’s goal put all the pressure back on the Welsh, and minutes later he provided the sucker punch. This time Ronaldo was the creator, even if he did not intend to be. The Portuguese moved forward in numbers as they looked to counter-attack, and Ronaldo found himself in a good position to shoot. The effort was straight at Wayne Hennessey, but Nani was there and he deflected the shot past the Welsh keeper into the back of the net. The ball rolled over the line, and with it went Wales’ hopes of playing in their first ever major tournament final.

In truth, the Welsh were playing from behind right from the word go due to the unfair suspension of Aaron Ramsey, the player who linked everything together for them. Joe Allen looked lost, Ashley Williams had no-one to pass to and Gareth Bale seemed to be responsible for both setting up goals and scoring them. Unsurprisingly, he couldn’t do both at the same time.

Portugal were on top from the start, but the Welsh were well organised defensively and were not letting anything through. James Collins had Ronaldo covered, and Bale looked more dangerous than the Portuguese despite his relative lack of possession. He looked quick, explosive and powerful. He looked too good for Portugal. He looked too good for anyone. If only he had more of the ball.

The first half passed without too much action, with Bale providing most of the exciting moments. He provided the highlight of the half when he ran 70 metres down the right wing with an explosive burst of pace, but it came to nothing when his shot was drilled at Rui Patricio, who made the easy save. Then the second half began with Portugal’s rapid-fire goals, and the game was all but over.

Bale was working harder than anyone else on the pitch, but he couldn’t do it. He challenged Patricio with powerful long shots and created some great chances which he himself would have converted. He was good enough to penetrate the Portuguese defence, but Sam Vokes and Simon Church were not and he was needed elsewhere. The game trundled on towards its inevitable conclusion until Jonas Eriksson blew his whistle to signal a thoroughly deserved win for the Portuguese. They were more organised, more skilful and more composed, and they have a great chance of winning Euro 2016.

Lyon – Parc Olympique Lyonnais
Portugal 2 (Ronaldo 50, Nani 53)
Wales 0
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Swe)

Portugal (4-1-3-2): Rui Patricio – Cedric, Bruno Alves, Jose Fonte, Raphael Guerreiro; Danilo; Joao Mario, Renato Sanches (Andre Gomes 74), Adrien Silva (Joao Moutinho 79); Nani (Quaresma 86), Ronaldo.
Wales (5-3-2): Hennessey – Gunter, Chester, Collins (J Williams 66), A Williams, Taylor; Allen, Ledley (Vokes 58), King; Robson-Kanu (Church 63), Bale.

Top 5
1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Ronaldo had an excellent game up front, getting himself involved in the action and looking dangerous throughout. The Portuguese captain scored one goal and set up the other, and was the best player on the ground. He was at the top of his game and will be a massive threat in the final.
2. Gareth Bale (Wales)
Bale worked very hard up front and caused plenty of problems for the Portuguese with his mobility and explosive pace. He never gave up and was still a threat when the final whistle blew. He had an excellent game and can hold his head high.
3. Joao Mario (Portugal)
Mario was poor against Croatia and Poland but he was back at his best against Wales. He was clinical in his ball use and he made plenty of dangerous runs. He assisted Ronaldo’s goal and was continually getting into dangerous positions in attack, nearly scoring on a couple of occasions.
4. James Collins (Wales)
Collins was responsible for shutting down Ronaldo early on, and he did a fairly good job. He was never beaten in the air and he was able to shut down plenty of Portuguese attacks. He was substituted in the second half as Wales looked to come back, but he played well and can take some comfort from his performance.
5. Nani (Portugal)
Nani scored Portugal’s second goal with a clever deflection, and he complemented Ronaldo well in attack. He caused plenty of issues for the Welsh with his pace and ability to get into dangerous positions, and he was one of the best players on the field.

UEFA Euro 2016 Knockout Stage Preview – Wales vs Portugal

Wales vs Portugal, Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon


Match Log

Wales

Wales 2 (Bale 10, Robson-Kanu 81), Slovakia 1 (Duda 61)
England 2 (Vardy 56, Sturridge 90+2), Wales 1 (Bale 42)
Russia 0, Wales 3 (Ramsey 11, Taylor 20, Bale 67)
Wales 1 (McAuley 75 og), Northern Ireland 0
Wales 3 (A Williams 31, Robson-Kanu 55, Vokes 86), Belgium 1 (Nainggolan 13)

Portugal

Portugal 1 (Nani 31), Iceland 1 (B Bjarnason 50)
Portugal 0, Austria 0
Hungary 3 (Gera 19, Dzsudzsak 47, 55), Portugal 3 (Nani 42, Ronaldo 50, 62)
Croatia 0, Portugal 1 (Quaresma 117) (a.e.t)
Poland 1 (Lewandowski 2), Portugal 1 (Renato Sanches 33) (a.e.t, Portugal won 5-3 on penalties)

Top Scorers

Wales

3 – Gareth Bale.
2 – Hal Robson-Kanu.
1 – Aaron Ramsey, Neil Taylor, Sam Vokes, Ashley Williams.

Portugal

2 – Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo.
1 – Ricardo Quaresma, Renato Sanches.

Team News

Wales

Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies picked up suspensions in the win over Belgium, and both of them will have to be replaced. Davies can be easily replaced by James Collins, but greater issues surround Ramsey, who dominated against Belgium and is in great touch. Jonathan Williams and Andy King are in line to replace him, and it is unclear which one Chris Coleman will pick. Hal Robson-Kanu had an excellent game after replacing Sam Vokes and should keep his spot.
Likely team (3-5-2): Hennessey – Chester, A Williams, Collins; Gunter, Allen, Ledley, J Williams, Taylor; Robson-Kanu, Bale.

Portugal

William Carvalho is suspended, and his place in the centre of the park is likely to be taken by Danilo. The other concern for Fernando Santos surrounds Pepe, who is in doubt with a thigh complaint. If he fails to get up then Ricardo Carvalho should regain his place and partner Jose Fonte in the centre of defence. Raphael Guerreiro and Andre Gomes have returned from injury and could retake their places in the starting line-up.
Likely team (4-1-3-2): Rui Patricio – Cedric, Pepe, Jose Fonte, Raphael Guerreiro; Danilo; Joao Mario, Renato Sanches, Adrien Silva; Nani, Ronaldo.

Keys to success

Wales

With Ramsey out suspended Gareth Bale and Joe Allen will have to step up to replace the Arsenal star, who has been in top form at this tournament. The defence will need to hold firm against a Portuguese side with plenty of attacking talent, and they will look to exploit the Portuguese on the break when they go forward. Chris Gunter and Neil Taylor have big roles to play in both defence and attack, and both Robson-Kanu and Bale will be expecting good delivery from the wing-backs.

Portugal

The Portuguese have been lucky to make it this far and they will need to markedly improve if they are to beat the Welsh. Their delivery for Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo has been abysmal, and if they are to win they need to be much better at translating possession into goals. Ronaldo was silent against Croatia in the round of 16, and while he sparked up against Poland he was unable to take any of the brilliant opportunities that were handed to him. He will need to improve, and fast.

Prediction

Wales are missing one of their star players in Ramsey, but they still have enough talent about them to do well. The Portuguese are in need of improvement after poor efforts against Croatia and Poland, but all signs suggest that they are unlikely to change. Wales 2-1.

Wales come from behind to take out Belgium

This tournament has been one in which underdogs have flourished, and Wales are now one game away from the final of Euro 2016 after a 3-1 victory over Belgium in Lille. Belgium came into the match in great form following a 4-0 thrashing of Hungary, and they asserted themselves in the opening stanza. Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne were both closely checked by the Welsh defence, and Yannick Carrasco was able to flourish on the right wing, finding plenty of space and creating some excellent chances. Belgium should have scored early on after a chaotic piece of play in which three shots were blocked by the Welsh in rapid succession. Carrasco started it when the ball fell to him out the back, but Wayne Hennessey was ready to make the save. Up stepped Thomas Meunier, whose shot passed Hennessey only to be blocked by James Chester, who was sitting in the goalmouth with plenty of support from his teammates. The danger hadn’t passed, and Neil Taylor was forced to deflect Hazard’s attempt over the bar for a corner.

The Welsh were under pressure, and soon they cracked. It was Radja Nainggolan who scored the goal with a thunderous one-time strike from long range, but it was Hazard who was at the centre of the set up play. The midfield maestro drove Joe Allen back towards the box before playing a look away pass to Nainggolan, who had plenty of space available to him. The shot found the top corner, and Hennessey could only manage to get his fingertips on the ball as it found the back of the net. The Welsh regrouped and consolidated, but all they had to show for it was an excellent volley from Taylor which Thibaut Courtois had done very well to save. Gareth Bale had been kept quiet, and the Belgians still looked in control. Then Ashley Williams scored, and the game was turned on its head.

The goal came from a corner, with Aaron Ramsey putting an excellent ball into the centre of the box for Williams, who converted easily. Jordan Lukaku was caught out of position as the ball sailed over his head, and the Welsh captain did not have to do much to drive his header past Courtois into the back of the net. The Welsh were back on level footing, and they looked far more comfortable as the first half drew to a close. Ramsey was everywhere, and his run around the ground was putting Belgium under plenty of pressure. Belgium wrested control back away from the Welsh after the break, and they soon had the defence on the back foot. Meunier looked dangerous when he pushed forward in attack, and Romelu Lukaku was unable to capitalise on a perfectly placed cross from the Belgian right back. Hazard threatened to score when he weaved through the Welsh defence to find space, but his shot was drilled across goal. Then Wales scored again, taking the momentum away from Belgium and putting the underdogs firmly in the driver’s seat.

The goal came out of nowhere, with Ramsey the catalyst. Bale’s long ball from inside his own half found Ramsey on the wing, and the Arsenal star took a brilliant touch to control the ball. He looked inside and crossed for Hal Robson-Kanu, who twisted and turned to put himself one-on-one with Courtois. He worked Meunier out of the contest, and Jason Denayer ran past him in an attempt to win the ball back. Marouane Fellaini was out of position, and Robson-Kanu was able to beat Courtois with ease.

Belgium pushed for the leveller, but the Welsh defence was very effective and the leveller was not going to come. Fellaini had some great chances after some strong set-up play, but he was all bark and no bite, promising much but failing to deliver. The Welsh put the icing on the cake with less than five minutes to go through Sam Vokes, who connected with a brilliant cross from Chris Gunter to guide the ball into the back of the net. It was a brilliant victory, one that was hard-fought but classy at the same time. The Welsh played with determination and had the skill to back it up, and they thoroughly deserve their spot in the last four, underdogs or not.

Lille – Stade Pierre-Mauroy
Wales 3 (A Williams 31, Robson-Kanu 55, Vokes 86)
Belgium 1 (Nainggolan 13)
Referee: Damir Skomina (Svn)

Wales (3-5-2): Hennessey – Chester, A Williams, Davies; Gunter, Allen, Ledley (King 78), Ramsey (Collins 90), Taylor; Robson-Kanu (Vokes 80), Bale.
Belgium (4-2-3-1): Courtois – Meunier, Alderweireld, Denayer, J Lukaku (Mertens 75); Nainggolan, Witsel; Carrasco (Fellaini 46), de Bruyne, Hazard; R Lukaku (Batshuayi 83)

Top 5
1. Aaron Ramsey (Wales)
Ramsey provided two assists and was the life of the Welsh team, buzzing with energy for ninety minutes and causing plenty of problems for the Belgians. He was at the centre of one of the greatest injustices of the night when he was booked for an innocuous handball, and while he will miss the semi-final because of the booking he can take some comfort from his brilliant performance.
2. Ashley Williams (Wales)
Williams was very solid at the heart of the Welsh defence, and he showed great leadership in continually warding off the Belgians. He scored the equaliser for Wales and he proved to be a huge threat for the Belgian defence, getting into dangerous positions and finding space at set pieces. He played well, and will continue to add strength to the Welsh defence in the semi-finals.
3. Thomas Meunier (Belgium)
Meunier played an excellent game from right back, pushing forward well and asking plenty of questions of the Welsh with his probing crosses. He was able to drift between attack and defence effortlessly, and he was Belgium’s best on the night. He was mostly solid from a defensive standpoint, and he didn’t let much through.
4. Hal Robson-Kanu (Wales)
Robson-Kanu was a big threat throughout with his pace and ability to find space in dangerous positions. He outmanoeuvred three Belgian players to score the goal that put the Welsh ahead, and a goal was just reward for a very strong effort throughout the game. He played well, and should keep his place for the semi-finals.
5. Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium)
De Bruyne had a strong game in attacking midfield, and he was at the centre of Belgium’s attack. He created some excellent chances through his set pieces, and he was able to open up plenty of space for both himself and his teammates. He played well, and he can hold his head high despite a disappointing loss.

UEFA Euro 2016 Knockout Stage Preview – Wales vs Belgium

Wales vs Belgium, Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille


Match Log

Wales

Wales 2 (Bale 10, Robson-Kanu 81), Slovakia 1 (Duda 61)
England 2 (Vardy 56, Sturridge 90+2), Wales 1 (Bale 42)
Russia 0, Wales 3 (Ramsey 11, Taylor 20, Bale 67)
Wales 1 (McAuley 75 og), Northern Ireland 0

Belgium

Belgium 0, Italy 2 (Giaccherini 32, Pelle 90+3)
Belgium 3 (R Lukaku 48, 70, Witsel 61), Republic of Ireland 0
Sweden 0, Belgium 1 (Nainggolan 84)
Hungary 0, Belgium 4 (Alderweireld 10, Batshuayi 78, Hazard 80, Carrasco 90+1)

Top Scorers

Wales

3 – Gareth Bale
1 – Aaron Ramsey, Hal Robson-Kanu, Neil Taylor

Belgium

2 – Romelu Lukaku
1 – Toby Alderweireld, Michy Batshuayi, Yannick Carrasco, Eden Hazard, Radja Nainggolan, Axel Witsel

Team News

Wales

The Welsh have no injuries or suspensions to deal with, and Chris Coleman should stick with the same line-up he has been using throughout the tournament. Sam Vokes was picked to start against the Northern Irish and he should continue to partner Gareth Bale in attack.
Likely team (3-5-2): Hennessey – Chester, Williams, Davies; Gunter, Allen, Ledley, Ramsey, Taylor; Bale, Vokes.

Belgium

Marc Wilmots has some difficult decisions to make in defence with Jan Vertonghen injured and Thomas Vermaelen out through suspension. Jason Denayer and Jordan Lukaku are likely to come into the side as replacements, but Wilmots may opt for a more experienced player and select Laurent Ciman. Dries Mertens should keep his spot on the right wing despite Yannick Carrasco’s strong performance against Hungary, and Wilmots should keep his attack the same.
Likely team (4-2-3-1): Courtois – Meunier, Alderweireld, Denayer, J Lukaku; Nainggolan, Witsel; Mertens, de Bruyne, Hazard; R Lukaku.

Keys to success

Wales

The Welsh like to sit back and play on the counter-attack, and they will need Bale and Aaron Ramsey to put plenty of pressure on the Belgian defence when they break. The Welsh have scored first in all of their matches so far, and they will struggle to come from behind against a Belgian team who are explosive on the break. Wales cannot afford to allow Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku as much space as the trio were allowed against Hungary, and they will need to be very careful in defence.

Belgium

Belgium have a similar style of play to the Welsh, and they will be looking to create space for their stars. Hazard put in one of the best individual performances of the tournament in the round of 16, and they will want him to play a big role against Wales. If they are going to neutralise the Welsh then they will need a strong performance from a defence which is missing plenty of key players, and they will look to take control in the centre of the park to stop the Welsh from getting forward.

Prediction

Both of these sides tend to rely on scoring the first goal, and whichever team can take the lead is most likely to win. Belgium should be in control of territory and possession, but the Welsh have a solid defence and are able to hurt on the break. It will be a great contest, but the lack of experience in the Belgian defence could prove costly. Wales 2-1.

UEFA Euro 2016 Knockout Stage Preview – Wales vs Northern Ireland

Wales vs Northern Ireland, Parc des Princes, Paris


Match Log

Wales

Wales 2 (Bale 10, Robson-Kanu 81), Slovakia 1 (Duda 61)
England 2 (Vardy 56, Sturridge 90+2), Wales 1 (Bale 42)
Russia 0, Wales 3 (Ramsey 11, Ramsey 20, Bale 67)

Northern Ireland

Poland 1 (Milik 51), Northern Ireland 0
Ukraine 0, Northern Ireland 2 (McAuley 49, McGinn 90+6)
Northern Ireland 0, Germany 1 (Gomez 30)

Team News

Wales

The Welsh have no injury concerns after a performance against Russia which has been labelled one of the best in the history of Welsh football. The main selection issue centres around the attack, and Chris Coleman will need to decide who will partner a red-hot Gareth Bale in Paris. Sam Vokes and Hal Robson-Kanu are the two options, and Coleman could go either way.
Likely team (5-3-2): Hennessey – Gunter, Chester, A Williams, Davies, Taylor; Allen, Ledley, Ramsey; Vokes, Bale.

Northern Ireland

Michael O’Neill played the same team in the final two games of the group stage, and with no injury concerns it is likely that he will keep the same XI to face the Welsh. There were some issues in the game against Germany, but these are unlikely to be fixed with personnel changes.
Likely team (4-5-1): McGovern – Hughes, McAuley, Cathcart, J Evans; Ward, C Evans, Davis, Norwood, Dallas; Washington.

Keys to success

Wales

The Welsh have been one of the standout teams of the tournament, and they will look to maintain their defensive stability at the Parc des Princes. Bale is in incredible form, and if his partner is able to complement him and put plenty of pressure on the Northern Irish defence the Welsh will be incredibly difficult to defend. Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen have been in stunning form, and they will need to keep this up.

Northern Ireland

The Northern Irish are happy to sit back while conceding possession and territory, and their defence will need to stand up to the Welsh challenge. Michael McGovern played one of the games of his life against the Germans in a man-of-the-match display, and he will need to maintain that form if Northern Ireland are to go any further in this tournament. The Northern Irish will look to score on the break, and Jamie Ward, Stuart Dallas and Conor Washington will need to show plenty of pace in transition.

Prediction

The Welsh are much stronger on paper, and with Bale, Ramsey and Allen in excellent form they will present an immense challenge for the Northern Irish. For their part, O’Neill’s team will always be hard to break down, but the gap in quality is simply too great and the Welsh should go through. Wales 2-0.

Substitutes fire as England get key victory

Daniel Sturridge picked up the ball outside the penalty area from Danny Rose. It was injury time, and the score was tied at 1-1. He stood still for a moment, collecting himself and looking for options. Eventually he moved. He played the ball to Jamie Vardy, England’s sole scorer and Leicester’s hero as they triumphed in the Premier League. Vardy did not have much time to react but he flicked it on to Dele Alli. Alli was closed off and dispossessed by a spirited Welsh defence, but Sturridge had run through and was able to collect the ball in a brilliant position. He took a touch, leaving the Welsh defender who came to him floundering, and with a calm finish into the bottom corner he delivered England a come-from-behind victory that sets them up well for the rest of their campaign.

This clash, between England and Wales, was one of the most highly anticipated of the group stage, and there was plenty of feeling between the two sides. Wales went in with plenty of confidence after a first-up victory over Slovakia, but England were able to push them back early. Raheem Sterling should have scored when he found himself with a golden opportunity, a cross from Adam Lallana landing perfectly at his feet. He could not hit the target, showing the poor form and lack of confidence which riddled his Premier League performances with Manchester City. England had other quality chances, and Gary Cahill missed a wonderful opportunity when his marker lost his footing in the box. His header went straight at Hennessey, and it was easily scooped up by the Welsh keeper. England could have had a penalty a few minutes later, but Ben Davies’ handball went unnoticed by the officials. England dominated possession, but while they had some good chances they looked ineffective against the Welsh defence. In the end it was Wales who hit the front, just when it seemed that the sides would go into the interval locked at 0-0.

The goal came from nothing, with a fairly clumsy challenge from Wayne Rooney setting up a free kick from considerable distance for Gareth Bale. In the end, it was not the actions of Bale which were responsible for the goal but those of Joe Hart, whose attempt at a save pushed an easily stopped free kick into the bottom corner. Bale stepped back and put his foot through it, and somehow the English keeper could not push it away from his own goal. The ball trailed into the back of the net off Hart’s hands, and while the goal was down to a keeper error it did not matter for the Welsh. It was the first time Wales had scored against England for 32 years, and they were bound to celebrate.

Roy Hodgson was quick to make changes to his misfiring team at the break, and he removed Sterling and Harry Kane. They were replaced by Vardy and Sturridge, and while Wales continued to hold firm the pair showed initial promise. After about ten minutes, however, the game opened up, and Vardy had scored shortly afterwards. Sturridge’s cross from the left wing found a mass of bodies at the top of the six-yard box, and the ball spilled out to Vardy. It would have been harder for him to miss the goals, and while Wales appealed for offside replays showed that the last touch came off the head of Williams, not an English player. England continued to push, and without the one-goal deficit looming over their heads they played with less pressure. Rooney nearly set up a goal after his free kick bounced around the Welsh penalty area like a pinball, but eventually Eric Dier’s shot was blocked. Sturridge mishit a volley, and Hodgson banked on the youngest player in the tournament, Marcus Rashford, to deliver England a goal. Rooney took a brilliant touch to evade Aaron Ramsey, but was immediately swamped by three Welsh defenders and had his shot blocked.

Wales were fighting hard, and while England still dominated possession they were not finding many genuine scoring chances. Alli threatened to create a goal when he made a beautiful run through the Welsh defence, but his shot was blocked. Cahill’s header went over the bar, and the game looked destined for a draw until Sturridge scored to win them the game. Bale had the last attempt of the match when he was open for a header inside the box, but he missed and England’s triumph was confirmed.

Lens – Stade Bollaert Delelis
England 2 (Vardy 56, Sturridge 90+2)
Wales 1 (Bale 42)
Referee: Felix Brych (Ger)

England (4-3-3): Hart – Walker, Cahill, Smalling, Rose; Alli, Dier, Rooney; Lallana (Rashford 73), Kane (Vardy 46), Sterling (Sturridge 46).
Wales (5-3-2): Hennessey – Gunter, Chester, A Williams, Davies, Taylor; Ledley (Edwards 67), Ramsey, Allen; Robson-Kanu (J Williams 71), Bale.

Top 5
1. Wayne Rooney (England)
Rooney was in control throughout the game, controlling the tempo of England’s attack and distributing the ball from midfield as he saw fit. His corners and free kicks proved a constant threat for the Welsh defence, and he delivered a performance that showed just how good he can be. He had some great chances, and was England’s best player.
2. Dele Alli (England)
Alli played a very strong game in the centre of the park, and he was able to find plenty of space in attack throughout. He was always able to find the ball, and he showed moments of his extraordinary skill with the ball at his feet. He drifted effectively between attack and midfield, and his work in the final third caused plenty of problems for Wales.
3. Ashley Williams (Wales)
Williams made a couple of mistakes during the game, including setting up Jamie Vardy for England’s first goal, but he was solid down back and used his vast international experience to marshal a Welsh defence which was able to stand up to the English pressure for most of the game. Williams fought for every ball, and as captain he set a great example for the rest of his team.
4. Jamie Vardy (England)
Vardy entered the game at half-time, and he had an immediate impact. He injected plenty of pace into the English attack, and he scored roughly 10 minutes after coming on. His pace and positioning in attack turned the game in England’s favour, and he was able to take his chances well. He was one of England’s best, and it would not be a surprise to see him start against Slovakia.
5. Daniel Sturridge (England)
Sturridge scored the winner in injury time, and he was lively throughout the second half. His cross was the catalyst for Vardy’s goal, and he was able to handle the pressure late on when he found himself one-on-one with Hennessey. He had plenty of opportunities, and while some were not as well taken as they could have been he played very well and had a big impact.

UEFA Euro 2016 Preview – Final Prediction

Over the last few days I have previewed each group in-depth, looking at each team individually. With just one day to go before Euro 2016 kicks off at the Stade de France it is now time for me to pick the team who I believe will be crowned champions of the tournament one month from now. The round of 16 is not easy to pick, as it is completely dependent on which of the third-placed teams progress to the next stage. I believe that Ukraine, Turkey, Sweden and Iceland will go through as third-placed teams, but Romania and Slovakia could well be the teams that progress. This means that Switzerland play Poland, Spain face Sweden, England play Turkey and Austria come up against Italy. The other matches would be Germany and Iceland, Belgium and Croatia, France vs Ukraine and Wales vs Portugal. Spain, England, Germany, Belgium and France should all progress comfortably, leaving three very interesting games. Austria and Italy will be an excellent contest, but the solidity and experience of the Italians should prevail. Either way, it will certainly be a great game to watch. Poland and Switzerland will be interesting, but Poland’s one-two punch of Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik should be too much for the Swiss. Wales and Portugal are dependent on Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo respectively, and this will make for an interesting game. It may be close, but Portugal have better depth and more options and should progress.

This leaves quarter-finals between Poland and Spain, England and Italy, Germany and Belgium and France and Portugal. France and Spain should go through comfortably enough, and this leaves two brilliant contests. England vs Italy is an incredibly interesting match-up, and while the Italians are strong England are the better side and should go through. The other quarter-final would see the two top-ranked sides in this tournament play off, and it could be a classic. The Germans have not been in good form, but they always stand up at major tournaments. In the end, the Germans should win due to their experience, but Belgium will always be tough to see off. The first semi-final is between Spain and England, both strong, youthful teams who will be sure to provide a great contest. Ultimately the Spanish have more experience and a better side, and as such are more likely to go through. The English are on the rise, however, and should not be written off. In the other semi-final the Germans play the French. This is a tight contest, but I feel that the French should progress with a stronger side full of incredible talent. As such, I predict that France and Spain will contest the final of Euro 2016. A game between these sides would be very interesting, but in the end the French are the better side and should lift the trophy. The Spanish cannot be written off, but my final pick for Euro 2016 is France.

Champions: France
Runners-up: Spain
Semi-finals: England, Germany.
Quarter-finals: Belgium, Italy, Poland, Portugal.
Round of 16: Austria, Croatia, Iceland, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, Wales.
Group Stage: Albania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia.
Golden Ball: Paul Pogba (France)
Golden Boot: Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
Best Young Player: Dele Alli (England)

This brings my Euro 2016 preview to a close, and I hope you have enjoyed it. Stay tuned over the next few months for articles on the Euros as well as coverage of the Premier League and the Champions League.

UEFA Euro 2016 Preview – Group B

Group B

Teams (world ranking in brackets): England (11), Russia (29), Wales (26), Slovakia (24)
Fixtures:
Wales vs Slovakia, Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux
England vs Russia, Stade Velodrome, Marseille
Russia vs Slovakia, Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille
England vs Wales, Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens
Slovakia vs England, Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Etienne
Russia vs Wales, Stadium Municipal, Toulouse

England

Head Coach: Roy Hodgson
Captain: Wayne Rooney
Previous Appearances: 8 (1968, 1980, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2012)
Best Finish: Third Place (1968)
Qualified: 1st Group E
UEFA Euro 2012: Quarter-finals

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Joe Hart (Manchester City), 13. Fraser Forster (Southampton), 23. Tom Heaton (Burnley).
Defenders:
2. Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur), 3. Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), 5. Gary Cahill (Chelsea), 6. Chris Smalling (Manchester United), 12. Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), 16. John Stones (Everton), 21. Ryan Bertrand (Southampton).
Midfielders:
4. James Milner (Liverpool), 7. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), 8. Adam Lallana (Liverpool), 14. Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), 17. Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), 18. Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), 19. Ross Barkley (Everton), 20. Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur).
Forwards:
9. Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), 10. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), 11. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), 15. Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), 22. Marcus Rashford (Manchester United).

Form Guide

The English came out strongly after a disappointing World Cup campaign, and they were the only team to win all of their games in qualifying. They scored 31 goals in qualification, more than any other team, and only Romania conceded less goals throughout the campaign. The English have plenty of exciting new faces in their line-up and they are in exceptional form.

Strengths

The English have plenty of fresh faces in their side, and they have the potential to go a long way. Harry Kane is a star up front, and his combination with Jamie Vardy will be a source of great excitement for English fans. Joe Hart is solid in goal, and with Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill down back not much will get through. Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Jordan Henderson are just some of the exciting prospects that Roy Hodgson can call upon, and the English will be one of the sides to beat at the final tournament.

Weaknesses

The side is generally very young, and many of the players who have come into the side will not necessarily be used to the scrutiny they will receive from the English media. Hodgson’s side are carrying high expectations into the tournament after an excellent qualifying campaign, and the pressure that will be placed on them could prove too much. There is a general lack of experience in the middle that could be costly, especially with key player Jack Wilshere returning from a long-term injury which sidelined him for all but a few games of last season.

Star Player: Harry Kane

It is very tempting to write this section about Wayne Rooney, but Kane’s record in the Premier League over the last couple of seasons is incredible and he has developed into England’s premier scoring option. Only Sergio Aguero has scored more Premier League goals over the last two seasons, and he has the potential to set this tournament alight.

Key Player: Joe Hart

Hart is one of only three players in the squad with more than 50 international caps to his name, and he comes into this tournament firmly set as England’s first-choice keeper. He is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but if he is unable to play at his best then England could struggle in a group filled with dangerous attackers.

Verdict

The English are strong, and with fresh faces in Kane, Vardy and Alli they have the potential to go a very long way in this tournament. They had a flawless qualifying campaign, and as such expectations will be incredibly high, but if they can overcome the pressure then they have the team to do very well. If they are able to fire they should be around in the latter stages of the finals.

Russia

Head Coach: Leonid Slutskiy
Captain: Roman Shirokov
Previous Appearances: 4 (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012)
Best Finish: Semi-finals (2008)
Qualified: 2nd Group G
UEFA Euro 2012: Group Stage

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moskva), 12. Yuri Lodygin (Zenit), 16. Guilherme (Lokomotiv Moskva).
Defenders: 2. Roman Shishkin (Lokomotiv Moskva), 3. Igor Smolnikov (Zenit), 4. Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moskva), 5. Roman Neustaedter (Schalke), 6. Aleksei Berezutski (CSKA Moskva), 14. Vasili Berezutski (CSKA Moskva), 21. Georgi Schennikov (CSKA Moskva).
Midfielders: 7. Igor Denisov (Zenit), 8. Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moskva), 11. Pavel Mamaev (Krasnodar), 13. Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moskva), 15. Roman Shirokov (Zenit), 17. Oleg Shatov (Zenit), 18. Oleg Ivanov (Terek Grozny), 19. Aleksandr Samedov (Lokomotiv Moskva), 20. Dmitri Torbinski (Krasnodar), 23. Dmitri Kombarov (Spartak Moskva).
Forwards: 9. Aleksandr Kokorin (Zenit), 10. Fedor Smolov (Krasnodar), 22. Artem Dzyuba (Zenit).

Form Guide

The Russians played well in qualifying, and despite two narrow losses to Austria they still managed to hold off a strong Swedish side to qualify automatically. They conceded just five goals throughout the campaign, and with eight goals from Artem Dzyuba their attack was very potent, netting a total of 21 goals throughout their campaign.

Strengths

The defence is full of experience, and the solidity provided by Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski mean that the Russians will be very hard to score against. Igor Akinfeev has plenty of experience in goal, and the midfield will be extremely strong. Roman Shirokov is an excellent player, and with Igor Denisov and Denis Glushakov patrolling the centre the Russians will certainly provide plenty of opportunities for Dzyuba and Aleksandr Kokorin up front. The Russians have a strong side, and they have the potential to go very far in this tournament.

Weaknesses

Dzyuba was prolific in qualifying, but half of his goals came in one match against Liechtenstein, and he cannot necessarily be relied upon again at the final tournament. More worryingly, only one of those goals came against a team who have actually qualified for this tournament, netting seven times against Moldova and Liechtenstein. There is a general lack of depth throughout the squad, and an injury to either Vasili Berezutski or Ignashevich could be a huge problem, as the replacements are not necessarily there.

Star Player: Roman Shirokov

Shirokov is the captain of the side and is the rock in the centre of midfield. He is very solid defensively, having been deployed as a centre back early on in his international career, and he has the ability to chip in with the occasional goal as well. He is a quality player, and his absence at the World Cup in 2014 was a huge blow to Russia’s chances.

Key Player: Aleksandr Kokorin

Kokorin is only 25, but he already has 11 international goals to his name with one in the World Cup. While Dzyuba was their top scorer in qualifying, Kokorin scored some very important goals, and he has stood up in these pressure situations before. These big game goals will likely be crucial to Russian success, and if he cannot find the net Russia will struggle.

Verdict

The Russians are a very strong side, and with a solid defence and consistent midfield they will certainly be a force to be reckoned with at the final tournament. They have the potency up front to succeed, and while there is a question as to Dzyuba’s ability against the top sides but they still have the ability to go a long way in this tournament.

Wales

Head Coach: Chris Coleman
Captain: Ashley Williams
Previous Appearances: None
Best Finish: N/A
Qualified: 2nd Group B
UEFA Euro 2012: Did not qualify

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace), 12. Owain Williams (Inverness), 21. Danny Ward (Liverpool).
Defenders:
2. Chris Gunter (Reading), 3. Neil Taylor (Swansea City), 4. Ben Davies (Tottenham Hotspur), 5. James Chester (West Bromwich Albion), 6. Ashley Williams (Swansea City), 15. Ashley Richards (Fulham), 19. James Collins (West Ham United).
Midfielders:
7. Joe Allen (Liverpool), 8. Andy King (Leicester City), 10. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), 14. David Edwards (Wolverhampton Wanderers), 16. Joe Ledley (Crystal Palace), 20. Jonathan Williams (Crystal Palace), 22. David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest).
Forwards:
9. Hal Robson-Kanu (Reading), 11. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), 13. George Williams (Fulham), 17. David Cotterill (Birmingham City), 18. Sam Vokes (Burnley), 23. Simon Church (Milton Keynes Dons).

Form Guide

The Welsh did not blow their opposition away in qualifying, but they were solid and Gareth Bale ensured that plenty of goals were scored. They toppled Belgium 1-0, and they sealed qualification with a couple of games to spare with a 0-0 draw against Israel in Cardiff. The Welsh have undergone some excellent improvement over the last few years, and they are well-placed to make an impact.

Strengths

Bale and Aaron Ramsey are both world-class players with plenty of experience. They both have an ability to find the scoreboard as well, and Bale’s seven goals in qualifying were crucial to the success of the team. Ashley Williams is a quality defender and on-field leader, and he marshals a defence which conceded just four times throughout the qualifying campaign. Ramsey, Joe Allen and Joe Ledley are all excellent players, and they are solid in the centre of midfield. Many of the players in the squad have Premier League experience, and the pressure should not be too much.

Weaknesses

The Welsh were frugal in defence during qualifying, but they were unable to hurt teams going the other way. In 10 games they only bagged 11 goals, and with Bale and Ramsey combining for 9 of those not many players contributed. Sam Vokes, Simon Church and Hal Robson-Kanu are all options, but these players are not very experienced at the highest level and may struggle at the final tournament. The result of this is a dependence on Bale which could well prove problematic if the Real Madrid star fails to fire.

Star Player: Gareth Bale

Bale became the most expensive player ever when he transferred from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid for around 100 million pounds. He is the best player Wales have, and his experience of playing in the Champions League with Real will serve him well at the final tournament. He bagged over half of Wales’ goals in qualifying, and he will make life very difficult for opposing defences.

Key Player: Wayne Hennessey

Hennessey has plenty of experience at the highest level, coming from six seasons in the Premier League with Crystal Palace and Wolves. He has been capped 56 times by the Welsh, and his experience in goal will be relied upon at the final tournament. If he fails to perform then it will be exceptionally difficult for the Welsh to win games and progress.

Verdict

Wales have a fairly strong side, and the combination of Bale and Ramsey will be a nightmare for their opponents. While there are some problems in attack Williams will take control of a defence that proved impenetrable during qualifying. The Welsh have the ability to go far in this tournament, but the key will be finding some quality support for Bale, who is currently the only scoring option.

Slovakia

Head Coach: Jan Kozak
Captain: Martin Skrtel
Previous Appearances: None
Best Finish: N/A
Qualified: 2nd Group C
UEFA Euro 2012: Did not qualify

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Jan Mucha (Slovan Bratislava), 12. Jan Novota (Rapid Wien), 23. Matus Kozacik (Viktoria Plzen).
Defenders:
2. Peter Pekarik (Hertha Berlin), 3. Martin Skrtel (Liverpool), 4. Jan Durica (Lokomotiv Moskva), 5. Norbert Gyomber (Roma), 14. Milan Skriniar (Sampdoria), 15. Tomas Hubocan (Dinamo Moskva), 16. Kornel Salata (Slovan Bratislava), 18. Dusan Svento (Koln).
Midfielders:
6. Jan Gregus (Jablonec), 7. Vladimir Weiss (Al-Gharafa), 8. Ondrej Duda (Legia Warsaw), 9. Stanislav Sestak (Ferencvaros), 10. Miroslav Stoch (Bursaspor), 13. Patrik Hrosovsky (Viktoria Plzen), 17. Marek Hamsik (Napoli), 19. Juraj Kucka (Milan), 20. Robert Mak (PAOK), 22. Viktor Pecovsky (Zilina).
Forwards:
11. Adam Nemec (Willem II), 21. Michal Duris (Viktoria Plzen).

Form Guide

Slovakia began their qualification campaign in brilliant form, beating reigning European champions Spain 2-1 and winning their first six games before limping over the line with losses to Spain and Belarus and a scoreless draw against Ukraine. They managed to take automatic qualification in the last game after two Marek Hamsik goals gave them a 4-2 win in Luxembourg.

Strengths

With Martin Skrtel, Jan Durica, Peter Pekarik and Tomas Hubocan down back Slovakia have a back four with over 250 games worth of international experience. Throw goalkeeper Jan Mucha into the mix and Slovakia have a very solid defensive front. They don’t lack bite at the other end either, with Hamsik, Vladimir Weiss, Stanislav Sestak and Miroslav Stoch ensuring that plenty of chances will be created. Overall, Slovakia have plenty of experience, and their appearance at the World Cup in 2010 can only help.

Weaknesses

While the midfield and defence are solid, there are some issues up front. Hamsik was the top scorer in qualifying, and while Adam Nemec pitched in with three goals a vast majority of the goals were scored by individual midfielders going forward. When the Slovak side reached the round of 16 at the World Cup many of the current crop of players were still there, but these players are no longer in their prime and many have not played at that level since. With the exception of Hamsik and Skrtel almost none of the players are at big clubs, and there is generally a large gap in quality between Slovakia and their rivals.

Star Player: Marek Hamsik

Hamsik has made over 300 appearances for Napoli, and he is now the captain of the club. He is the highest quality player that Slovakia have, and while his versatility makes him particularly appealing he will play in attacking midfield, where he will probably serve as the team’s number one scoring option.

Key Player: Martin Skrtel

Skrtel has been at Liverpool since 2008, and in that time he has established himself as a very solid centre back. He is the captain of the side, and he will be relied upon not only for his defence but also for his leadership. While he cannot be expected to contribute to the scoresheet he is a first-class defender, and if he has a good tournament many other pieces will fall into place.

Verdict

Slovakia have some issues in attack, but they have a solid base and if Hamsik is able to perform goals should not be an issue. The side has plenty of experience, and they will know that if they play like they did in the World Cup they can succeed. While there is plenty of potential the team is relatively inexperienced at this level and they could face a struggle.

Prediction

The English are looking excellent going into the tournament, and they should be able to breeze through the group without much trouble. The other three teams will probably face an interesting battle, and the Welsh should go through thanks to their solidity down back and the boost provided by Gareth Bale. Russia may struggle to score as their attack is the weakest in the group.
1. England, 2. Wales, 3. Slovakia, 4. Russia.