Euro 2016: home nations round-up
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KEY MEN: Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Wayne Rooney
England 1-1 Russia
In their opener against Russia, England showed a positivity that offers fans hope. Dier’s free kick was well struck and a fantastic goal, but the team’s inability to finish chances in open play remains a concern. Adam Lallana was amongst those to squander England’s opportunities in front of goal. Russia’s equaliser came in the dying seconds of the game and left England fans deflated; the team will now need to win both remaining games to keep their qualification bid on course. Thursday’s showdown with Wales is now crucial to England as well as being a massive occasion for both sides, who last met in 2011. Expect nerves to be at fever pitch on Thursday afternoon.
REUPUBLIC OF IRELAND
KEY MEN: Shane Long, Seamus Coleman, Wes Hoolahan, John O’Shea
Ireland 1-1 Sweden
Ireland also started positively and piled the pressure onto Sweden, as several Irish chances hit the frame of the goal. Hoolahan’s 48th minute strike put them in front and Ireland went on to score twice – unfortunately, one of those was in their own net: a stooping Ciaran Clark nodded a low cross into his own net while under pressure from the striker behind him. Ireland’s style of play offered reasons for optimism but their group is a tough one and with only one point on the board, and their other group games against Italy and Belgium (two quality squads), it’s hard to see them going beyond the group stage.
KEY MEN: Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Ashely Williams
Wales 2-1 Slovakia
After a 58-year absence from a major tournament the Welsh returned with a bang, grabbing a last gasp winner against Slovakia. Goals from Gareth Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu saw the Welsh wizards clear but Ben Davies’ goal line clearance was just as important in securing the final result. Davies was immensely effective throughout the game and is well worth keeping an eye on in approaching fixtures. Wales currently field their strongest squad in years and will have grounds to hope for a result against England on Thursday. While England are stronger on paper, keeping Gareth Bale at bay is a mean feat for any defence and the late goal England conceded against Russia showed signs of weakness at the back.
KEY MEN: Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley, Kyle Lafferty
Northern Ireland 0-1 Poland
The only home nations’ team to lose their opener, Northern Ireland got off on the wrong foot. Despite Evans and McAuley’s commendable marshalling of the defence against a superior ball-playing side, Poland broke through in the 51st minute and Milik narrowly slotted the ball past McGovern’s outstretched hands. Their tactics implied Northern Ireland were playing for the draw as, until the goal was scored, they played very defensively and did so with great discipline. Conceding the goal tore that plan to shreds and the Ulstermen were found to be wanting upfront, their limited chances not handled with composure. They never really looked like scoring and will have to step it up against Ukraine in their next fixture. Ukraine looked ambitious in forward areas against Germany, even forcing an amazingly athletic goal line clearance from Boateng; and despite losing 2-0 to current world champions they will probably go into the game as favourites. Unfortunately it’s hard to see Northern Ireland qualifying from the group stages as points against Ukraine or Germany will be hard to come by, but never say never!