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Euro 2016: home nations round-up #2

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ENGLAND

KEY MEN: Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge, Jamie Vardy, Dele Alli

England 2-1 Wales

In what was an immensely pressurised game England managed to come up with the goods, narrowly defeating Wales on Thursday. Gareth Bale put the Welshmen ahead just before half time with a free kick from a distance, which Joe Hart should have saved. England’s fight back began in the 56th minute as substitute Jamie Vardy scrambled the equaliser home and Daniel Sturridge found a way through all the bodies in the box to score the winner in the 91st minute.

England largely lacked the attacking flair they displayed against Russia, only coming to life after Hodgson made changes bringing on Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford, (who became the youngest player ever to play competitively for England) and Daniel Sturridge. Harry Kane disappointed and failed to earn his starting place, leaving Roy Hodgson with a selection headache up-front for the game against Slovakia on Monday.

Qualification looks likely for England but they’ll want to make a statement on Monday. Beating Wales was an up-hill battle, as England’s defence was shaky at times and they were less then fluid going forward. Some of that fluency must be regained.

WALES

KEY MEN: Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies, Ashley Williams

Wales 1-2 England

From a Welsh point of view England’s 91st minute winner was heart-breaking and put the question of their qualification from the group back in the balance. Gareth Bale has repeatedly emphasised the togetherness and team mentality in the Wales camp and it definitely showed against England. Aaron Ramsey was immensely hard working, as were a lot of the team.

Bookmakers have Russia as narrow favourites for their game against Wales on Monday, but how their ageing defence will handle the likes of Bale and Ramsey remains to be seen. If Wales can be a little more comfortable on the ball in their next fixture and keep some possession, they definitely have the squad to overcome Russia. But Russia have shown their ability to fight hard, too; the equaliser that broke England hearts exemplified this and leaves the result on Monday a hard one to predict. In terms of qualification, it’s do or die for both teams.

NORTHERN IRELAND

KEY MEN: Gareth McAuley, Niall McGinn, Jonny Evans

Northern Ireland 2-0 Ukraine

Northern Ireland claimed their first win at a European Championship as goals from Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn saw them triumph against Ukraine. The Ulstermen were more positive and confident than they were in their previous fixture against Poland.

Tuesday will see Northern Ireland take on world champions Germany in an attempt to secure qualification from the group. A win would guarantee their qualification while a point against Joachim Löw’s side would leave them dependent on the result between Poland and Ukraine. The Ukrainians have already failed to qualify and will likely be at a low ebb in their final fixture.

Northern Ireland’s surprise win has left them with a great – if immensely difficult – chance to qualify. Critics expected less from the Ulstermen and in some views theirs is the worst squad in the tournament. Whether they can battle to a point or three on Tuesday will be a real test of their mettle.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

KEY MEN: John O'Shea, Wes Hoolahan

Republic of Ireland 0-3 Belgium

In the first half Belgium looked improved since their loss to Italy, as Moussa Dembélé replaced Fellaini and Kevin De Bruyne moved into a more central position where he presented more of a threat. Early in the second half Romelu Lukaku put Belgium ahead as their superiority on the ball began to yield some fruit, and two more goals followed in quick succession as Ireland attempted to throw men forward.

Getting through the group isn’t impossible for Ireland but at this point it’s a long shot. For them to qualify would require Sweden to fight Belgium to at least a draw, also – more importantly – Ireland will have to beat Italy on Wednesday. Italy have been surpassing expectations and flying high, despite key absences in the squad. It’s hard to see an Irish victory or qualification, but they aren’t without a chance.

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