England begin Euro 2016 campaign after fans’ disgrace
Roy Hodgson’s England enter the fray at Euro 2016 on Saturday bidding to end a 50-year wait for a major title and hoping their fans are not involved in more clashes.
England take on Russia in Marseille where beer-swilling English hooligans have fought with police for two nights in scenes reminiscent of the 1998 World Cup in France.
Real Madrid star Gareth Bale will lead Wales’ debut European Championships appearance against Slovakia, while there will be the rare sight of brothers going head-to-head as Arsenal’s new recruit Granit Xhaka faces older sibling Taulant when Switzerland play Albania on the first full day of action.
France struggled to get past Romania in the tournament curtainraiser on Friday until Dimitri Payet’s wonderful 25-metre strike handed the host nation a 2-1 victory.
Attention now turns to England, the only team to win all 10 qualifying matches and there is optimism that a new-look Three Lions could shock favourites Germany, Spain and France.
Premier League top-scorer Harry Kane is expected to lead the line. But Leicester City’s title-winning hero Jamie Vardy may have to settle for a place on the bench to make way for captain and England’s all-time record goalscorer, Wayne Rooney.
Hodgson made no direct comment on the scenes of tattooed fans brawling with police and Russian fans in Marseille for a second day on Friday.
Officials said seven arrests were made and riot police spent the rest of the night keeping a close eye on hundreds of beer-sodden fans.
Hodgson said his mind was focused on the match at the Stade Velodrome and his side are anxious to start the campaign.
“As far as we’re concerned, tomorrow can’t come soon enough,” Hodgson said.
“We are fully aware of what a good team Russia are, we’re aware of their experience and of their quality.”
– History awaits Bale’s Wales –
After his best season so far for Spanish giants Real, Bale spearheads Wales’ inaugural European Championship finals match against Slovakia in Bordeaux.
Bale scored seven goals in qualifying to lead Chris Coleman’s side to their first major tournament since 1958.
“Whenever there was a major championship on I would be sat at home, watching on TV, so to be involved is amazing,” said Bale.
“I imagined qualifying. It was one of my dreams to do so, but to make dreams come true is not easy.”
However, Slovakia have a star of their own in Napoli captain Marek Hamsik.
The midfielder scored five times in qualifying, but played down suggestions that the match will be a shoot-out between him and Bale.
“I think Gareth is one of the best players in the world,” said Hamsik.
“I wouldn’t like to compare myself to him. It won’t be a match between Gareth Bale and Marek Hamsik. It will be between Wales and Slovakia.”
– Brothers at arm’s length –
History will be made in Saturday’s first game should the Xhaka brothers line-up for opposing sides.
Granit, who cost Arsenal a reported 40 million euros from Borussia Moenchengladbach, has opted to play for the country of his birth, Switzerland, whilst the lesser known Taulant chose Albania, the home of their parents who fled war-torn Kosovo in the 1990s.
“Anyone in a similar situation, who says it’s not a special game, is a liar,” said Granit.
“For 90 minutes, we’ll blend out the fact we’re brothers as professionals. May the best man win.”
The Xhakas are not the only players that could have lined up for either side. There are six players in the Albania squad born in Switzerland, whilst a number of the Swiss side are of Kosovan descent, including Stoke City star Xherdan Shaqiri.
Some 300,000 Kosovans moved to Switzerland to escape the territory’s brutal war with Serbia in the 1990s.
Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea could be fighting for his place in the Spain team after he was forced to dismiss reports that he had organised a party in 2012 where women were allegedly forced to have sex against their will.
“I am the first one to be surprised by this report. I deny it, it is false and nothing more, it is a lie and false,” De Gea said on Friday
Eldiario.es news website said the name of De Gea and Athletic Bilbao’s Iker Muniain appeared in a woman’s testimony as part of an investigation into Ignacio Allende, a Spanish porn producer who was detained in April for alleged sexual abuse of minors and disseminating child pornography.