England are yet to claim an opening win at a European Championships and in two prior tournaments under Roy Hodgson’s guidance, but those niggling stats should be about to change at Euro 2016 when the Three Lions take on Russia in Group B.
While ball-rolling victories couldn’t be sought against either France at Euro 2012 (1-1), or Italy two years ago in Brazil (1-2), Russia’s depletion through a string of injuries to key players makes Hodgson’s task that much easier in Marseille.
Russia boss Leonid Slutsky already had notable casualties Alan Dzagoev, Real Madrid winger Denis Cheryshev, and former Chelsea left-back Yuri Zhirkov to deal with, before being hit with another crushing blow only a week before facing England.
Influential centre-midfielder Igor Denisov, the only natural holder in the squad, was ruled out of the tournament after tearing a muscle in a friendly with Serbia, leaving Slutsky one too many cracks to paper over.
There is also the small matter (regardless of the media frenzy surrounding the 11 potential names on the teamsheet), of England’s outstanding form, results-wise at least.
The bets to be on
Backing Hodgson’s flawless qualifiers to get off to the perfect start at 19/20 can be done with all the more confidence after warm-up wins over Australia, Turkey and Portugal.
Very impressive friendly victories over tournament favourites France and world champions Germany have also been recorded since November.
Whoever Hodgson decides to deploy and in whatever formation, going for the jugular is likely to be the order of the day for England’s attack-minded squad.
Russia, who have lost three of their last five games since qualification, while only beating Lithuania, leaked four goals against France in March to give England real encouragement.
The Three Lions have only been kept off the scoresheet once in a dozen games meanwhile, and average exactly two goals per game across their last half-dozen outings.
With the Premier League’s two leading scorers at his disposal in the shape of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, either in tandem or one off the bench, the Three Lions can cause the weakened Russians serious problems.
As the most likely starter, the Kane wincast at 12/5 also looks worthy of investment.
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