It is a great shame that events on the field during the opening round of Group B matches were overshadowed by the behaviour of so-called supporters of England and Russia both in the port of Marseille and in the stadium itself, after the two sides had drawn one apiece. It was so severe to the extent that Russia have been given a suspended disqualification from UEFA, and the manager and captain of England have had to record messages urging fans to stay out of trouble.
There were no such problems earlier in the day as Wales made it the perfect introduction to the European Championships by overcoming a plucky Slovakia side. Once again inspired by Gareth Bale, the opening results mean that they have the advantage going into the remaining games, and will look to revel in the pressure they have now put on England ahead of their long anticipated clash in Lens.
England were clearly unlucky in their game with Russia, conceding an agonising stoppage time equaliser which meant that their dominance counted for little. There were plenty of positives to take including the high tempo of their play and the energy they showed throughout, but a failure to fully capitalise on their superiority cost them dearly as a rare chance for their opponents at the death was seized upon.
Inevitably every decision and minor tactical adjustment made by boss Roy Hodgson has been scrutinised in the aftermath, but none of them are responsible for the loss of two points, despite his surprising refusal to involve Jamie Vardy, who surely would have been ideal to come on at 1-0. Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling were a disappointment, but continue to perform like that and England should have nothing to worry about.
There is hardly cause for debate, but England are a better side than Wales. The problem is that Wales possess one of the world’s best in the shape of Bale, who did not take long to make an impact in the tournament by scoring a free-kick against Slovakia. Shackling the Real Madrid star is crucial, but England must focus on their own game and make the most of their collective talent.
It has the look of a great game and a great occasion, and it seems that as the stage gets bigger, Wales are gaining in confidence. A draw will be celebrated by Chris Coleman’s side as it will all but secure a place in the knockout stages, but for the sake of pride and expectations in England only a win will do for the Three Lions.
The other game in Group B takes place 24 hours earlier in nearby Lille as Russia face Slovakia; one which neither side can really afford to lose. Russia looked very average against England and showed little in the way of attacking ambition, so to emerge with a draw must have felt like a precious result for Leonid Slutsky and his players, who will be as concerned with the threat of disqualification as they will be about this match.
When Slovakia equalised against Wales they looked in a position where they might go on and win, but a Wales breakaway eventually caught them out. They are at their weakest defensively where they are led by the rugged Martin Skrtel, but arguably come into this meeting as marginal favourites, providing that they can be more clinical in front of goal than England.
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