Euro 2016 Group B – England in pole position to finish top

Whatever happened, there was always going to be a hefty list of talking points following the game between England and Wales. It did not disappoint, as Roy Hodgson’s bold decision to bring on two strikers from the bench at half-time paid off as Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge both scored to turn around a worrying deficit brought about by goalkeeper Joe Hart’s inability to field a long range free-kick from Gareth Bale.

The last-gasp nature of Sturridge’s dramatic winner could be the catalyst for England to go a reasonable distance into this tournament. Performances have been strong, and the only problem thus far has been the struggle to put the ball in the back of the net, but the momentum gained from that memorable triumph over their rivals should see them get the job done against Slovakia.

Just a point is needed in order to secure a place in the knockout stages, but the Three Lions will want to make sure of top spot by taking maximum points. It would be a surprise not to see at least of Sturridge and Vardy start, with Harry Kane having looked some way off his best during the opening two games, while Raheem Sterling has been the weakest link, failing to justify the continued faith of Hodgson.

One man who is likely to keep his place is Hart, despite the heavy criticism that came his way following his error on Thursday. There will be nerves for the Manchester City stopper as he lines up behind a defensive line that the critics are just waiting to see exposed for a perceived lack of quality, but all in all England are heading in a positive direction amid the absence of heightened expectation.

It will not be a case of simply sweeping aside Slovakia, who are strong opponents in their own right and will be desperate for the points they require to reach the last 16. Star man Marek Hamsik is beginning to distinguish himself at this competition and will represent a danger as he looks to follow on from his fine contribution to his side’s impressive win over Russia.

While a little nervy towards the end, it was a deserved victory for Slovakia, who will probably be hoping for a draw in the group’s other match between Russia and Wales, both of whom are still very much in with a shout of making it through.

Despite the agony of losing so late on to England and succumbing to the pressure, Wales will be aware that they are the team in the position of strength. Also, given the fact that Russia have no option but to chase victory in order to remain in the competition, it may free up space for Bale to inflict major damage on an ageing backline.

This is not the time for Chris Coleman’s side to sit back and invite pressure as they did against England, but a lot will depend on how they respond to losing right at the death. Russia have been written off in many quarters after their dismal display in losing to Slovakia, but all is not lost and they will not want to leave France with a whimper.

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