The World Cup might still be two years away, but that doesn’t mean that the summer of 2016 is going to be anything other than magical. With the Copa America happening right now within the United States, there’s plenty of footy to satiate any fanatic. However, crossing the Atlantic ocean during June and July will see you crash headlong into the European Championships. A tournament comprised of the best footballing nations of Europe, and a tournament plunged deep into the mirth of quality seen from European soccer. A chance to shine in your continent and be remembered as legends of the game; it’s a crown for an area that proudly proclaims to be the birthplace of the world’s game. In 2016, one country will rise and be proclaimed as king…bring it on!

While most of us are wondering who these garbage refs are officiating the Copa, it’s almost time to turn our focus to France and the 2016 European Championships. With that in mind, we here at the Center Circle have decided to give you a group-by-group breakdown of what we can expect, what to watch for, and who we see moving on from the group stage. It’s Europe, it’s for a major title, and it’s going to be amazing!

Group B

Group B has perennial under-performers England, World Cup 2018 hosts Russia, under-the-radar Slovakia, and “will they ever make the jump” Wales. We all want England to be an easy favorite, but nothing is ever that simple for the Three Lions. Add in an always ardent work-rate from Russia and several big-name talents in the Welsh side, and you’ve got a fairly interesting group.

England is an eternal conundrum. Awash with talent across the pitch, but a failure to see a true impact and bring home major hardware for half a century. They might be the highest ranked team in their group, but their history suggests that having the best players might not be enough. Not to mention that, despite not having the flash that will attract neutral fans, this group is stacked.

For the Brits to make any kind of deep run, they will need to have a big-time, scoring striker. Vardy and Kane might have had a great domestic season, but this is a story the English squad has seen go to pieces at the worst time. This might be Rooney’s swansong, but it might be easier to just slap him on the bench. Hodgson still seems like the greatest example of failing upwards since…well…ever, but he has a lot of talent at his disposal. If the team wants to alleviate an absolute mountain of pressure that falls on their squad during every major tournament, they need to do well. Otherwise, these negative results will just continue to pile up.

Keep an eye on the ridiculous talent within the youth ranks of this squad. This might be the stage where several players take the next step in their career (Kane, Sterling, Barkley, Stones…it’s incredible how young this team is…in fact, the England squad is the youngest at the tournament). This team has every possibility of scoring a half-dozen goals a game and looking threatening on every attack…they also have the possibility of putting up a goose-egg and dropping points every fixture. Such is the conundrum of England’s national team…

PREDICTION: Either win the group, or finish last…it could go either way.

WHY: This team seems continuously to falter, be mismanaged, and struggle at the worst possible moments. If one of their strikers gets hot, magic could happen…otherwise, the disappointment rolls on.

For anyone that tends to lean closer to the causal fan side of things, Slovakia won’t be dripping with names you’re used to hearing. Add in that this is one of the older teams in the competition, and Slovakia might not realize their potential (or FIFA ranking…which currently has them in front of both Russia and Wales). If anybody has the ability to make a big splash from well under the radar, it’s Slovakia.

A Marek Hamšík-led midfield can wreak havoc against any team in the world (which they’ve proven multiple times in the build up to this tournament). Where most of the other squads in this tournament have opted for youth, Slovakia is turning to experience. Factor in that the “experience” we’re talking about doesn’t involve players too far removed from their primes (only two field players are over 31 years old), and this is going to be a well-led machine that isn’t susceptible to the pressures of a big tournament.

Look for a few gems in the Slovak ranks to put their names into the transfer market this summer in order to make a big move to a big club or garner one last big transfer in their career. All the dominoes are tipped for this squad to be in the perfect mindset and position to succeed.

PREDICTION: Second in the group. Dark horse to win the entire tournament.

WHY: Nobody is giving them a chance, but no team has the stars so aligned to succeed. Look out.

For Russia and Wales, there is a lot of pressure to make a good showing before the upcoming World Cup. However, both teams seem to have made a fairly public showing that merely qualifying was a victory. Despite Bale wanting to further cement his status as a world superstar, and despite the fact that Russia will have zero worries qualifying for the next World Cup (hosts automatically qualify), these two teams will be looking to merely string together some decent performances. Despite decent FIFA rankings, these two teams just don’t have it in them for a deep run. Russia’s best asset is that a huge swath of their players play on the same club teams…Wale’s biggest asset is finally qualifying…it still won’t be enough.

PREDICTION: If England stumbles, either could qualify. If England performs to their potential, they won’t get close.

WHY: Russia is too old, and Wales is too inexperienced.

There you have our Center Circle guide to group B. We hope that something in here helps you sound a bit more intelligent than your mates, but, a bit more selfishly, we just hope we get our predictions right. Keep an eye out for the other group predictions (Read about Group A) and enjoy the Euros!

Euro 2016 Group Previews:

Group A

Group B

Group C

Group D

Group E

Group F


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