MARSEILLE, France (AP) — After early elimination from the World Cup two years ago, England is preparing to show everyone at the European Championship what it has learned since 2014.
The English open their Group B campaign against Russia on Saturday with a young team that includes some new faces in major tournaments.
“It’s exciting, fresh,” England goalkeeper Joe Hart said Thursday. “There’s a lot of youngsters, so they are probably going to be a lot more comfortable than maybe other teams.”
In Brazil, England was eliminated after losing 2-1 to both Italy and Uruguay. The team’s final game was a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica.
“Playing to a decent standard sometimes isn’t enough,” Hart said. “We have got to be really ruthless – both ends of the pitch.”
Russia will take the field at Stade Velodrome weakened by injuries to two key midfielders in recent weeks.
Veteran midfielder Igor Denisov was ruled out of Euro 2016 after picking up a thigh injury in his team’s final warm-up match, a 1-1 draw with Serbia on Sunday. Alan Dzagoev broke a bone in his foot last month and was ruled out of the tournament in France.
“We’d only just started rebuilding after Dzagoev and now we have to rebuild after Denisov without the help of any friendly games,” Russia coach Leonid Slutsky said after the Serbia match. “These difficulties will only bring our team together and we’ll be playing with more enthusiasm.”
Russia, which is set to host the next World Cup, will need more than enthusiasm to beat England, which improved after the World Cup and won all its Euro 2016 qualifying matches.
After meeting in Marseille, both England and Russia have to play Wales and Slovakia in Group B.
Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane, both new since the World Cup, could play together up front on Saturday, supported by captain Wayne Rooney.
That could be a potent attacking force in France, even though none of the three managed to find the net in the team’s last warm-up match, when defender Chris Smalling scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Portugal.
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