Who knows about Slovakia ? The other half of the former Czechoslovakia, who won this tournament back in 1976 the first final I can remember.
Let us start with St George v the dragon, they both may come from the British Isles, but to mistake one nation for another to their face is probably one of the biggest insults you can cause. (note to our American cousins, being called Brits is just as annoying).
Many nations can claim to have been oppressed by the English over the centuries, but Wales have more claims than most. In the 8th century before England existed as a nation state, King Offa of Mercia built a dyke to keep out the long haired wild Welshman who were a constant nuisance, especially if you happened to be a sheep.
Wales was conquered in the late 13th century and despite some rebellions, was finally incorporated into the English kingdom during the 16th century. However don't for one minute think the Welsh are happy about this to this day.
When you think of Wales and sport, the first things that comes to mind are Rugby, closely followed by Sheep worrying.
Famous sons, perhaps Richard Burton or Tom Jones, the point being not footballers, only real football fans would have heard of Gareth Bale or perhaps Ryan Giggs (and that more for his affair of eight years with his sister-in-law, no not a sheep, than his football )
Anyway, I hope they do well as their fans rendition of the Welsh National Anthem is worth hearing as often as possible.
As to England, all English fans always believe they can do it. The rest of the world just roll about on the floor laughing at this self-delusional behaviour. More about England if they get to the knock out stages.
This leaves us with Russia and Slovakia. When Russia was the USSR, they were a sports powerhouse, but since the fall of communism, their true level has become apparent. They have a large pool of resources to choose from but it is brass monkeys (very cold) most of the time in Russia and that is not conducive to flowing football.
As I said Slovakia, were half winners in 1976 but have not been back since, they are a proud sporting nation, being good at ice hockey as well as football.
They do not like the Russians, well who does ? They still remember the Russian tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia in 1968 to crush the Prague spring, so expect a good game with lots of crunching tackles.
This is a very hard group to call. I will go for England and the Slovaks to progress. I would like Wales to progress from third place but it is a a toss up between them and Russia.
Four to watch
|H Kane only meant to blow the bloody doors off|
|Bale, Monkey Man|
|Shatov had a bad case of the runs|
|Hamsik words fail me|