England always go into a major tournament with great hopes only to see those hopes vanish pretty quickly after a disappointing exit, usually in the early part of the knockout stages of the tournament. With Wayne Rooney and co. drawn in a difficult group alongside Wales, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey in tow, Russia, the 2018 World Cup hosts desperate to make an impression, and Slovakia, a difficult opponent for any team, England will need to be at their absolute best if they are to qualify for the round of 16, before taking those four major steps towards Euro 2016 glory in France.
Here is a quick preview of all the four teams of Group B of Euro 2016, with what to expect and the key players who need to make an impact.
England: The European Championships is a tournament England have never won, surprising considering how big a footballing team they are. For Euro 2016, Roy Hodgson, the manager, has taken a young(ish) squad, capable of creating a few highlights. The key for England, as it always is, will be performing to their potential when the pressure is on them.
They haven't been able to do that too well in major tournaments since the 1966 World Cup win, but what might work in Hodgson's favour is that he has quite a few players who will come in and play without fear, because they haven't been in such a situation in a major international tournament before. The likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Jamie Vardy will be keen to show they belong at this level, and that might work in England's favour.
Key players: Wayne Rooney: Say what you want about the Manchester United forward, Hodgson has made it clear his captain will start. That means Rooney will be a key figure in England's attacks, and those assists and goals need to flow.
Harry Kane: The Tottenham striker is coming off a golden boot-winning season in the Premier League, and while his club's season finished in disappointment, there is nothing stopping the 22-year-old from scoring goals, goals and more goals. Kane will need to be played through the middle, though, not like an auxiliary wide man, when Hodgson's plans failed in the final pre-Euro 2016 friendly against Portugal.
Wales: When you look at the team on paper, it seems like Wales are just about the two players – Bale and Ramsey. But, this is a well-rounded team, with each player aware of what their role is. Wales were impressive in qualifying, finishing only below Belgium and the team have the ammunition up front, albeit without a really good centre-forward, and solidity at the back – a poor friendly outing against Sweden notwithstanding – to beat any team in the group, and beyond.
Key players: The obvious two – Bale and Ramsey: These two, particularly Bale, will be the key to Wales' success. If Bale and Ramsey shine, Wales will, if they don't, Wales will struggle. Also, Ashley Williams will play a big role in making sure that defence is nice and steady.
Russia: The World Cup hosts in two years will be keen to make an impression in this tournament. Russia have looked much better as a team since Fabio Capello's departure, with manager Leonid Slutski getting the best out of his players – Russia went on to win four straight games in qualification to secure a runners-up spot following Slutski's arrival. Low on star power and struck by several injuries – star playmaker Alan Dzagoev will miss the tournament and so will Yuri Zhirkov, Denis Cheryshev and Igor Denisov -- Russia will bank on team cohesion and the always-important tournament intangibles to see them through to the knockout stages.
Key player: Aleksandr Kokorin: The forward, who has been previously linked to Arsenal, needs to deliver for Russia. Also, watch out for Aleksandr Golovin, who is an exciting talent and could be one of the breakthrough players of Euro 2016.
Slovakia: The team that is getting the least attention in Group B, but one that could make the biggest impact. Since Jan Kozak has taken over, Slovakia have looked a much smoother team, with Marek Hamsik coming to his own in national colours. Slovakia finished runners-up behind Spain in their qualifying group, while also handing the defending European champions a defeat in the qualifiers. Capable of the brilliant, but also the underwhelming.
Key players: Marek Hamsik: Slovakia are a little too dependent on the Napoli playmaker, so if he does not have a good Euro 2016, they could be in trouble, but if he does, they could make the knockouts. Martin Skrtel will also want to show he remains a big player in defence, after losing his spot at Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp.