As England take on a resurgent Slovakia in this final group B match in picturesque Saint-Etienne, both sets of fans descend into the city hoping for a clear path into the knockout stages of the tournament.
Slovakia bounced back from a 2-1 loss to Wales in their opening fixture to defeat Russia by the same score line. The latter were favourites going into the match, but a superb individual performance by Marek Hamsik sent the traveling Slovaks into delirium. Now they stand with a palpable chance of making it to the knockouts in their first-ever participation in the tournament since gaining independence in 1993.
England, on the other hand, have plenty of experience of major tournaments but not as much of winning them. The Three Lions enter into every such occasion with huge expectations and pressure, which generally tends to get to the players. This, however, is a young squad – the youngest in the tournament by average age – who haven’t yet faced the huge, sometimes unreal, expectation from fans and media alike. Their young legs carried them over the line against Wales with a come-from-behind victory, and more of the same will be expected come Monday night.
Team news and tactics
Jan Kozak has no fresh injury worries ahead of this match with the exception of Norbert Gyombér who has a slight knock. They can be expected to field the same starting eleven that beat Russia in the last game.
Kozak prefers the 4-2-3-1 formation with Juraj Kucka and Patrik Hrošovský being the two sitting in front of the defence. A defence, that is led by skipper Martin Škrtel and ably assisted by Ján Ďurica in the center of it. The duo have a total of 164 caps in between them and will be hoping to make all of their experience count in this crucial game. Against England’s quick center forwards, their lack of pace could be a handicap but they will be hoping their positional sense makes up for it.
The focal point in attack, however, will be the in-form Marek Hamšík. The 28-year-old – who is also the most-capped player in the squad – produced a strong display against a Russia side that dominated them physically. The Napoli midfielder ran the show that night and ensured his contributions led to Slovakia gaining all 3 points. Marking him well and keeping him quiet will be England’s aim.
Ahead of him, Andrej Duda could start in a forward role looking for channels to run while his vice-captain works his magic in a role just behind him.
Possible lineup (4-2-3-1): Kozácik (GK), Hubocan, Ďurica, Škrtel, Pekarik; Kucka, Hrošovský; Weiss, Hamšík, Mak; Duda
Like his counterpart, Roy Hodgson too has a clean slate as far as injuries and suspensions are concerned. Their starting eleven, however, will not be as straight forward a choice as their opponents on the night.
Hodgson has employed a 4-3-3 in this tournament so far with Eric Dier being given the responsibility of sitting in front of the defence. Wayne Rooney can be expected to slot back into his now favoured midfield role with Dele Alli’s able assistance.
While the aforementioned 8 pick themselves, the hot debate has been around the front three. Jamie Vardy could be expected to start in place of Harry Kane while his fellow half-time substitute Raheem Sterling could also miss out. Daniel Sturridge, who scored the late goal against Wales, will take the Manchester City winger’s place if he indeed drops to the bench. Adam Lallana should retain his place from the last game.
While England have had something to cheer about on the goals front, it is their defence that they should be worried about. Both Kyle Walker and Danny Rose tend to go forward in attack leaving huge gaps in defence. Dier, Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling are left to clean up after them. However, the Tottenham duo haven’t been caught out defensively so far, but Kozak and his men should have identified this as a weakness they would want to exploit.
Possible lineup (4-3-3): Hart (GK), Rose, Cahill, Smalling, Walker; Rooney, Dier, Alli; Sturridge, Vardy, Lallana
Player to watch out for
Wayne Rooney (England)
A centre forward his entire career, this new midfielder avatar of Rooney seems to be suiting him. Now the captain of his country, the former Everton player seems to have matured as he runs the show from just behind the attacking midfielder. His manager in the build up to this game singled him out for praise, which according to fans and pundits alike is richly deserved.
- England have scored at least 2 goals in their last 3 matches against Slovakia in all competitions
- If England win this match, they are assured of the top spot in the group while if Slovakia win or draw, their participation in the knockouts is almost guaranteed.
- This is Slovakia’s first participation in the Euro finals since gaining independence in 1993.
- England and Slovakia are also in the same World Cup 2018 qualifying group. Their next match is scheduled in Slovakia in September 2016.
Slovakia 0 – 2 England
England should do enough to prevail over a spirited Slovakia side given their pedigree and overall quality of the squad.