England kick-off their Euro 2016 campaign with a tough Russia test, while Albania and Wales mark their European Championship debut against Switzerland and Slovakia respectively.
Albania v Switzerland
1400 ~ Stade Bollaert- Delellis, Lens
Albania make their European Championships debut as they face a tough Switzerland side and while boss Gianni De Biasi admitted it will be tough, he wants his team to give it their best shot.
“The game will be really difficult,” said the 59-year-old.
“If we manage to get through the group stage it would be a surprise. For me, success would be our people being as proud of us at the end of this competition as they are now at the beginning.”
Switzerland gaffer Vladmir Petkovic thinks Albania are more of a threat than people think and that you never know how the first few games at Euro 2016 will pan out.
“The first couple of games are always hard to predict. There are always so many emotions involved,” said the former Lazio manager.
“Our aim is clear: to play better than Albania and win the game. To do that, we need to keep our cool and remain focused. Albania are defensively sound and very well-organised so we need to make sure we capitalise on their mistakes.”
Albania will assess the fitness of defender Taulant Xhaka, who returned from a thigh injury their final warm-up game and he could face off against younger brother Granit, who is expected to start for the Swiss.
Switzerland have no injury worries ahead of their opening game with Juventus defender Stephan Lichtsteiner set to captain the Swiss, after former captain Gokhan Inler was not selected in the 23-man squad after a disappointing season at Leicester.
Wales v Slovakia
1700 ~ Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux
Wales will also make their European Championship debut against Slovakia and gaffer Chris Coleman said his team are raring to go and a positive result today will give his side a massive confidence boost.
“We’re super excited and very much looking forward the challenge,” said the former Fulham boss.
“The results will be what they will be but we want to make our nation proud. I want to see the players enjoying and expressing themselves – they’ve earned it. This first game, everyone wants to win. If you go into the remaining two games with a win, it’s a huge boost.”
Jan Kozak – who won a bronze medal for Czechoslovakia at Euro 1980 – hopes Slovakia can kick-off their campaign with a win and believes there is much more to Wales than just Gareth Bale
“I’ve never coached in a EURO, but I’ve played in one and it’s always emotional,” said the 62-year-old.
“Wales are not just about Bale. It’s a team game. They have other top players who play for top English teams. He cannot be a great threat to opponents without the team to support him.”
Wales midfielder Joe Ledley has made a remarkable recovery after breaking his leg just over a month ago and could feature at some point in their opening match.
Midfielder Joe Allen is also available for selection after a minor knee problem, as is striker Hal Robson-Kanu who returns after an achilles tendon injury.
Slovakia’s all-time top scorer Robert Vittek has not made the trip to France due to an injury as head coach Kozak must decide whether to choose Adam Nemec or Michal Duris to start up front.
England v Russia
2000 ~ Stade Velodrome, Marseille
England head into Euro 2016 as the only side with a 100% record from qualifying but manager Hodgson faces a tough call from a young and talented squad to pick in his starting XI as they prepare for a tough Russia game.
“There is definitely a selection headache in terms of so many good players,” said the former Liverpool boss.
“We have a lot of respect for Russia. We think they are a very good team, a very experienced team with lot of players who’ve played together a long time at CSKA and Zenit.”
Russia manager Leonid Slutsky thinks it is important to strike a balance between youth and experience as he also mulls over his line-up and hopes they can start their Euro 2016 campaign with a win.
“I would like us to play good football and for them to get the result they want,” said the 45-year-old.
“There is always a debate between youth and experience. It is impossible to say which is better and we have had this discussion on a number of occasions. We will also have a lot of players who will be experiencing a major tournament for the first time.”
England defenders Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill and Ryan Bertrand all picked up minor knocks in training this week but the trio are set to be available for England’s opener.
There are rumours that Hodgson won’t include Leicester striker Jamie Vardy in his starting line-up with Spurs’ Harry Kane expected to be a sole striker up front in a 4-3-3 formation.
Russia have a full strength squad to choose from but midfield pair Alan Dzagoev and Igor Denisov are missing from the 23-man squad after being ruled out of the tournament through injury.