England, Wales set sights on last 16
Paris: England and Wales will aim to cement their places in the knockout phase of Euro 2016 on Monday as all four Group B sides remain in with a realistic chance of reaching the last 16.
England, thanks to Daniel Sturridge’s stoppage-time winner against Wales, lead the group on four points with Chris Coleman’s men and Slovakia one point further back.
Russia have looked distinctly unimpressive so far, but they too are still in contention despite propping up the standings with just a single point.
England face Slovakia in Saint-Etienne knowing that a draw would send them through to the next round, with a victory guaranteeing top spot and a last-16 game in Paris.
England coach Roy Hodgson was forced to reshuffle his pack after Gareth Bale’s free-kick fired Wales ahead in their second group game in Lens, with substitutes Jamie Vardy and Sturridge bailing him out in a dramatic 2-1 victory.
Premier League top-scorer Harry Kane and winger Raheem Sterling, both of whom have struggled to replicate their top form in France, were hooked at half-time at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis.
And while Hodgson has decisions to make about his starting line-up, he may not be inclined to make drastic changes against a Slovakia side counting once more on Napoli playmaker Marek Hamsik.
“I think the players are in good shape and I don’t think it will be a problem if I keep the same side, but I do have the options if I want to make changes,” Hodgson told reporters on Sunday.
Real Madrid star Bale will try to exploit an ageing Russian back line when Wales play their final group game in Toulouse.
Bale has scored two of his country’s three goals, both directly from free-kicks, and the 26-year-old insisted his team-mates remain in high spirits despite the crushing nature of their last-gasp defeat to England.
“We have to forget about it. It’s over. Our fate is in our own hands, and if you’d given us this at the start of the tournament we would have taken it,” said Bale.
Wales will book their place in the last 16 with a victory, but a draw could also be sufficient to see the tournament debutants advance.
Manager Chris Coleman echoed Bale’s optimism and believes Wales can keep their fans dreaming for some time yet after reaching their first major tournament finals since the 1958 World Cup.
“Look where we are, we’re in a fantastic position. We’re at our first major tournament, we’ve got the chance to progress. Our players have done unbelievably well,” he said.
Russia must beat Wales to avoid a third straight group stage exit at a major tournament.
They may have to do without Oleg Shatov who is nursing a groin injury, but Leonid Slutsky hinted at a start for Denis Glushakov after the midfielder came off the bench to score in the 2-1 defeat to Slovakia on Wednesday.