By Niall Clarke
- Euro 2016 Group C preview and predictions
- Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Northern Ireland
World Champions Germany head into Euro 2016 as one of the favourites for the title, but they have a tough group to get out of first.
The 2014 World Cup winners will be looking to follow in Spain, France and their own footsteps and win the World Cup and European Championships back to back for the second time, but Die Mannschaft do not seem the force they were in Brazil two years ago.
With many of the old guard gone and injury concerns, Joachim Loew has a difficult task in leading Germany in this tournament. Marco Reus is a big loss, but the squad is still packed with talent such as Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Manuel Neuer and others. The main source of goals will likely come from Thomas Muller who always seems to be in a contender for the golden boot.
The lack of out and out full backs could be a problem at the back for Germany as they often use makeshift full backs in matches. Players out of their natural position often leads to them not being able to play to their full capabilities, and that could mean that the German defence could be leaky.
Despite plenty of problems, Germany remain a European powerhouse and should make the latter stages of the tournament . They have enough creativity in midfield to unlock any defence, and if Muller is firing up top then they will have some goals in them too.
Ukraine will have their sights set on the knockout stages as they attempt to pip neighbours Poland and Northern Ireland to qualify from Group C.
Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko are the stars of the Ukraine side and will no doubt be the main threats. However could the team be too reliant on these two to produce a bit of magic? Mykhaylo Fomenko has been accused of being too cautious with his set up, and if Konoplyanka or Yarmolenko get injured or not in form, then they will find goals hard to come by.
Having said that, the cautious approach will make Ukraine a difficult side to beat. They should fancy themselves to make the last 16 at the very least with only Germany being the clear better side in the group.
Much like their neighbours and rivals Ukraine, Poland will have aspirations of making the knockout stages of Euro 2016.
It could be argued that this Polish squad is the strongest in around 30 years. The mood at home is more that of cautious optimism than expectation, which after not really making an impact four years a go, seems like the best way forward.
The squad has good depth but the main player they will look to is Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich striker is a superstar in his native country and is one of the world’s best strikers. Lewandowski will be a contender for golden boot, and his goal scoring form will be key to Polish chances.
Northern Ireland will head into Euro 2016 with nothing to lose as they attempt to ‘go light up Europe’ by making it out of Group C.
It has been 30 years since they qualified for a major tournament, so there’s a wave of excitement surrounding the team. Michael O’Neill’s side have hit the ascendency and topped their qualifying group. The last 16 seems like a realistic aim, but they will have to perform well and draw on their more experienced players such as Steven Davis.
O’Neill does not like to tinker with his side in order to keep a consistent foundation within the squad. Northern Ireland are a good unit, but if any injuries should occur, especially to key players, then that will undoubtedly have an impact. Keeping everyone fit and keeping that base will be key to qualification as they do not have the technical capabilities of the other sides in Group C.
Presuming Germany top the ground as they should, the race for second will be interesting. If Lewandowski is firing then Poland will have enough goals to sneak through. If the Bayern Munich striker is off kilter, then that may open the door for Ukraine or Northern Ireland.
1st– Germany, 2nd– Poland, 3rd– Ukraine, 4th– Northern Ireland.
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