Euro 2016 Group C Preview
It’s impossible to see Germany as anything other than one of the tournament favourites, and with respect to Ukraine, Poland and Northern Ireland, who accompany the World Cup winners in Group C, it looks a fairly kind draw for Joachim Löw’s side. There’s no room for complacency in international tournament football though – just look at Spain two years ago. Group C certainly looks like one of the more predictable tables in Euro 2016, but let’s take a look at these four teams to see what we can expect.
There’s a wealth of world class talent in the Germany ranks, so it would be no surprise to see Die Mannschaft carry on from where they left off in Brazil.
Reus again misses the tournament through injury but with the likes of Ozil, Muller and Schurrle at their disposal, his absence may not be too much of a problem.
Interestingly however, Germany are a little lacking in the forwards department. Only Podolski and Gomez can be considered as forwards in the conventional sense, both plying their trade in the Turkish Super Lig (Galatasaray and Besiktas respectively). They’re still good players, but perhaps not quite the world class options you’d expect Germany to boast as strikers. Still, the likes of Muller and Gotze can fulfil this role, so it’s not likely to be much of an issue.
With Germany’s offensive strength, it might not matter that their defensive line lacks a little in international experience, with Mustafi, Can, Hector, Rudiger joining the more experienced Hummels, Howedes and Boateng, but it’s a possible concern.
Germany have been somewhat inconsistent in recent friendlies, losing to England, Slovakia, and France, but just how much attention should we pay to friendlies? Think back to Germany’s 7-1 Semi-Final World Cup demolition of Brazil as evidence of what Germany can do when it matters…
In case you hadn’t already heard, Will Grigg’s on fire, and after a fine season helping Wigan to the League One title, he’s heading to France.
The Solihull-born forward joins several Football League players (some of whom play in League Two) in the Northern Ireland team, with only a few players with current top flight experience available for selection – Cathcart, Evans, Davis and McNair are the only current Premier League players.
Despite a lack of star names, you’d be foolish to underestimate Michael O’Neill’s men. Northern Ireland impressively topped their qualifying group, and they are currently on a record 12 match unbeaten run. A 3-1 win over Greece was a particular highlight of their excellent qualifying stages.
It’s the first time the Green and White army have ever qualified for the Euros, and they have the momentum to suggest they can do well on the Euro stage during their first major tournament appearance since the 80’s, if they can frustrate Poland in their opening game.
While some of their players are lesser known, Poland have quality in the form of Lewandowski, Krychowiak, Piszczek, Milik and Kamil Glik.
Any team with a player of Lewandowski’s calibre have to be respected at the Euros and if he’s in good form, Poland will have every chance of qualifying, especially with the increasingly impressive Milik alongside him, who has shone for Ajax this season.
Poland have reasons to be optimistic. They beat Germany 2-0 during qualifying and finished just one point behind Die Mannschaft which will no doubt give the Polish side confidence ahead of their meeting this time around.
If Lewandowski and Milik can cause havoc up top, then Poland will be confident they can progress further than they did when they co-hosted the Euros in 2012, during which they failed to win a game.
Based on a counter-attacking setup, Ukraine will be hoping that their defensive qualities prevail in France.
As the only team in this group not to have automatically qualified, it might be fair to call them the weakest team in Group C, although, they did have Spain to contend with.
Konoplyanka was the subject of a big money move to Sevilla, but with an inconsistent first season in La Liga, this is a good chance for the winger to shine. Similarly, Yarmolenko, who helped Dynamo Kiev get to the Champions League knock out stages, is after a big move away from Ukraine, so will be looking to put himself in the shop window.
That they only narrowly lost to Spain when they met in the qualifying stages is a sign that Ukraine are a decent unit, but the fact their first game is against Germany could leave them playing catchup for the rest of their matches.
As one of the Group’s most consistent players, Thomas Muller has to be in with a shout of Highest Scorer.
He netted 5 times in Brazil two years ago and has plenty of big game experience at both international and club level.
An alternative bet might be on Lewandowski, considering his team are set up to create chances for Bayern Munich forward. Funnily enough, he scored the first goal of Euro 2012…
Who will qualify?
It would be a real surprise if Germany somehow failed to qualify, but it’s a little more difficult to predict who will be joining them.
Poland seem to be the best choice for 2nd place and after a series of disappointing tournaments, they might actually be dark horses to go deep into the tournament.
Northern Ireland’s solidity and run of form suggests they can make a fist of it, especially if they can take something off the Poles in their opening encounter.
Meanwhile, Ukraine will most likely be battling for a third place spot and a chance to progress through the backdoor ala their play-off heroics.
Villa connection to the group
Villa’s days of sending several internationals to tournaments are over for now, but dig deep enough and you’ll find a few connections.
Northern Ireland’s Steven Davis made 91 appearances for Villa from 2004-07, while similarly teammate Aaron Hughes also played his football in B6 at around the same time.
Outside of this, there’s not much to mention, but maybe the watchful eye of Roberto di Matteo will be scouting this year’s tournament…
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