Ahead of the England vs Wales main course on Thursday, there is a delectable Russia vs Slovakia Euro 2106 appetiser on Wednesday, with both teams desperate for the three points to make their mark in Group B. While Slovakia are coming off a defeat to Wales in their opener, Russia's 1-1 draw over England, thanks to a late equaliser, will feel like a win.
Knowing that England and Wales remain the favourites to qualify as the top two from this group, Russia and Slovakia will not want to put a foot wrong in this intriguing matchup. To do that, getting the starting XI right, for both teams, naturally, is vital, and what Russia, in particular, need to do is give Artem Dzyuba more support up front.
Too often in the game against England, Dzyuba cut a frustrated figure, all too isolated, leaving him with too much to do. Russia need to make sure that is not the case against Slovakia, and put in runners beyond the tall striker, so that they can take advantage of the headers that he will inevitably win. It also remains to be seen if Denis Glushakov will come in for Roman Neustadter, after the latter started the game owing to a slight injury for the former.
The Russians were pinned back for long periods in the 1-1 draw against England, but against Slovakia, they might envisage having the ball a lot more, and what they do with that possession will be key.
Russia, though, showed their fighting spirit against England, going all the way till the end, before finding that equaliser in the second minute of stoppage time via captain Vasili Berezutski. That mentality will be essential against Slovakia, who will welcome back Thomas Hubocan.
Slovakia were impressive in spurts against Wales, particularly in a 10-15 minute phase after they scored the equaliser. While they could not find that winner which would have given them three points instead of none, they will take heart from that particular phase, when Wales were quite troubled.
Marek Hamsik, though, needs to be brought into the game more. Against Wales, especially in the first half, following that missed opportunity right at the beginning when Ben Davies made a great goalline clearance, the Napoli playmaker played way too deep, and as a result was unable to carve out those chances like he usually does.
Hamsik is Slovakia's talisman and he needs to be playing in a position where he can hurt the Russia defence. Also, Ondrej Duda, who scored the goal against Wales, or Adam Nemec could come in for Michal Duris.
Expected starting XI: Russia: Akinfeev; Smolnikov, Ignashevich, V Berezutski, Schennikov; Neustadter, Glushakov; Shatov, Shirokov, Kokorin; Dzyuba.
Slovakia: Kozacik; Pekarik, Skrtel, Durica, Hubocan; Hrosovsky; Mak, Kucka, Hamsik, Weiss; Duda.