Temptation of draw might stymie England and Russia
By Mitch Phillips
MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - England and Russia are the big beasts of Group B and, though each would love a winning start when they meet on Saturday, the fear of losing could well become all-pervading and lead to a cagey encounter.
With games against Wales and Slovakia to come, and the potential for three teams to qualify with two guaranteed, a point at the Velodrome might look a very useful result in a couple of weeks.
England, on the back of winning all 10 qualifiers, not to mention a rare victory in Germany in a friendly, start favorites and will expect to make the running in front of a 60,000 crowd that will be predominantly behind them.
However, despite that great run of form, England are anything but a settled side as Roy Hodgson struggles with the question of how to shoe-horn his form players into an established system.
Strikers Jamie Vardy, fresh from leading Leicester City to the most unlikely Premier League title, and Harry Kane, the Premier League's top scorer, seemingly demand selection.
But Hodgson is adamant Wayne Rooney, the captain and most experienced squad member, should get a starting berth, leaving the coach experimenting with his attacking options right up to the last minute.
At least he is picking from strength in that regard as his, and England's more pressing concern is in central defense where any combination of Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and John Stones has looked vulnerable and remains England's Achilles heel.