The Group C of Euro 2016 is expected to witness some fiercely fought contests with the likes of World Champions Germany, a strong Poland side, an unpredictable Ukraine and underdogs Northern Ireland battling to qualify for the knock-out stages. Germany and Poland are every neutrals favourite to finish in the top two of the group. But could the other two upset the odds? Well let’s take a look how the group could unfold.
The reigning FIFA World Cup champions are often referred to as a side in transition, but this is not the case. Except Philip Lahm, the rest of squad remains intact since the World cup glory, but the Mannschaft often failed to replicate their formidable performances from the past. The route to Euro 2016 was not that comfortable for this side, even though they qualified as group winners, a point above Poland. They were further exposed after losing in 3 of the last 5 friendlies. The defeats to England and France could be pardoned, but disastrous 3-1 defeat against Slovakia rings a warning signal.
The German squad is composed of seasoned performers who are coming on the back of strong seasons with their respective clubs. Mesut Ozil is expected to orchestrate the midfield, with the effective Thomas Muller in support. The return of Mario Gomez after two year absence from the national squad could give them a new dimension in the attack. Mario Gotze is also back with full fitness, but his starting spot is under threat from Schalke youngster Julian Draxler. The pairing of Mat Hummels and Jerome Boateng gives them stability in defence, with Howedes and Jonas Hector in support. The preferred midfield duo will be Tony Kroos and Sami Khedira.
Germany is unarguable one of the strongest side on paper and is well experienced at international stage. Despite their recent downfalls, they are expected to progress out of the group stage. Both Poland and Ukraine are expected to offer tough competition, but this will be a different ball game once the tournament starts. The Germans doesn’t have to be at the best of their form, but they have the knack of finding goals at crucial moments these days.
Group Prediction: 1st
Key Player: Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich)
Poland had a disastrous Euros when the co-hosted the tournament in 2012. They were knocked out in the group stages after failing to win a single match and finishing bottom of the group. This is not the first time, as exit from the 2008 edition of the tournament under the exact same situation.
They done extremely well in the qualifications stages to finish second in the group which involves Germany, Republic of Ireland and Scotland. Adam Nawalka’s side then notched up four straight wins in friendlies, before losing to Netherlands in their final warm-up match. The squad is well balanced with the perfect mixture of youth and experience. Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski is unarguably their best player, but they are not a one man squad by any means. With the likes of Fiorentina midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski, Sevilla’s Grzegorz Krychowiak and Dortmund Lukasz Piszczek, this Poland side are capable of surprising a few. The 22-year old Ajax forward Arkadiusz Milik is the most exciting youngster in the squad, but the 19-year old midfield Bartosz Kapustka is a surprise package.
Their record in recent Euros is disappointing and they haven’t won a group match in the last two editions. But expect them to bounce back strongly here, and qualify for the knock out stages by finishing second at the least.
Group Prediction: 2nd
Key Player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Ukraine qualified for the Euros after beating Slovenia 3-1 in the play-offs. Finishing third in a qualifying group behind Spain and Slovakia, and above minnows Belarus, Luxembourg and Macedonia was much expected. They have also won in each of their four friendlies since then and will be coming to France in good spirit.
Mykhaylo Fomenko’s team is known for their counter attacking style of play and are quite dangerous from set piece situations. They are a strong defensive unit who often sit back and orchestrate moves through wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka. They do not often operate with an out and out striker, with Roman Zozulya being the only recognized striker in the team. The 20-year old Viktor Kovalenko is an exciting talent to watch out for in the tournament.
Ukraine kick-off their fixture against Germany and if they manage to get anything out of the game, they put themselves in a pole position to come out of the group. Both Northern Ireland and Poland will prove hard to beat. But overall their chances of automatic qualification to knock outs are slim.
Group Prediction: 3rd
Key Player: Yevhen Konoplyanka (Sevilla)
For me, Northern Ireland are the real under dogs in this group. Nobody expects them to progress and so they have little pressure on them. Surprisingly finished top of the qualifying group above Romania and Hungary to book their ticket to France and they lost just 1 of their 10 matches during the time. They are coming on the back of some strong form and are unbeaten in their last 12 matches including friendlies.
West Brom duo Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley, together with Manchester United youngster Paddy McNair are the prominent names in the squad. But their captain and Southampton midfielder Steven Davis is the key player in the squad. But the rest of the squad is more of less Championship quality.
Despite these facts, they are strong and organized unit capable of frustrating their opponents and hit them on the counter. And on their day, they could prove hard to break down. But do not expect them to upset anyone here, will finish bottom of the group.
Group Prediction: 4th
Key Player: Steven Davis (Southampton)