ENGLAND begin their campaign against Russia on Saturday night. Chris Graham (@chrisgraham79) has a strong view.
England v Russia | Saturday 20:00 | ITV1
It’s really weird. You walk about London at the moment and there are very few English flags, very few pubs going overboard and no one dressing up as World Cup Willie. The hype over England (so prevalent for most of the last 20 years) has dissipated this time round.
And how ironic is that when you consider this might be the best chance they have to win a major trophy in many years. I’m a believer to be honest and I’d go as far as to say it’s the best chance England have for 20 years.
Why? Well, primarily the draw. It’s a peach of a situation for England. Win the group and they’re likely to face none of the big guns until the semi-finals. It’s 26 years since they reached the last four on foreign soil and it really could happen here.
Another reason I like them is their youthful feel. The faces of old that were symbolic with England failure have largely been faded out and there’s a real fresh feel about the side, epitomised in that rousing win over Germany at Easter.
Negatives? There are always negatives with England. Their defence looks creaky, their coach may not have the nous to escort them all the way to glory and there’s the very obvious mental block when it comes to crunch matches for the England players.
As a Scot looking in, they seem to have their best chance in a while and I’ve no doubt they can get off to solid start on Saturday against Russia in Marseille.
You’ve heard the stat yeah? England haven’t won an opening European Championship match in eight attempts. Bar the loss to Ireland in 1988 and draw with Switzerland in 1996 they were all matches that would have been tough to win so there’s no enormous shame in that stat.
Russia come here without the injured pair of Alan Dzagoev (so effective in Euro 2012) and Igor Denisov and that will be a crushing blow to them.
They had a torrid qualifying campaign losing home and away to Austria and failing to beat Moldova at home. This was chiefly the responsibility of the departed and disgraced coach Fabio Capello and results have improved since Leonid Slutsky took the reins last year.
England though arrive in much more solid form. 10 wins out of 10 in qualifying, three warm-up wins out of three and victories over France and Germany in friendlies over the last 12 months. It’s an impressive profile.
I have to back them tonight and at 19/20 I think it could be one of the best bets of the tournament. I don’t really envisage a heavy win but I’d be hugely surprised if England failed to pick up three points here.
This is the calibre of opponent that England have been beating in qualifiers and indeed in tournaments for a few years now. I don’t think this Russia side are as strong as Italy and Uruguay in 2014 for example and have them more akin to the likes of Ukraine and Sweden in 2012 that England dispatched.
It’s a depleted Russia side up against a confident England outfit. At a shade of odds on it looks an outstanding bet for the English to get off to a flyer.
England v Russia – England to win (19/20 Netbet)