Euro 2016 – Group C Preview

Another tough group but Germany are clear favourites in this group for a reason and I fully expect them to lead the way.

Germany have a squad full of talent, whereas the rest of the group have workmanlike teams with one or two top players. That may be harsh on Poland who garnered 21 points in qualifying (finishing behind Germany), whilst Northern Ireland performed well in a weaker group and Ukraine just snuck through via the play-offs.

Germany

Qualifying record:

7 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses

Top scorer:

Thomas Muller (9)

Projected top performer:

Thomas Muller – Without a shadow of a doubt, Muller is the man Germany will be relying on to put the ball in the back of the net.

At the 2010 World Cup he won the Golden Boot and at the 2014 World Cup he was the second top goalscorer, so he has a knack for doing it on the big stage.

Despite scoring 3 goals and providing 7 assists in qualifying for Euro 2012, he didn’t manage to nail down a spot at the finals and instead, Mario Gomez led the line.

There is no way history will repeat itself. Muller has to start in this tournament, he featured in 9/10 games in qualifying scoring 9 goals (a goal a game ratio) and has also just managed his most prolific scoring season of his career at club level, finding the net 32 times in 49 games in all competitions.

He is not even the main striker at Bayern, fellow Group C player, Robert Lewandowski holds that spot, so despite being seemingly overshadowed for large parts of his career, Muller still gets the job done.

Whilst Gomez enjoyed a great season on loan at Besiktas (26 goals in 32 games) , I still think Muller is the main outlet and if they are going to win this tournament I am sure he will be a big part of it.

Expectations:

Win and nothing else will do. The 2014 World Cup winners are behind France in the betting market, but for me they should be favourites.

France have the home advantage, but Germany strike me as the better team. If you were to question Germany in any position it would be defence, however with the likes of Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels etc. protecting Manual Neur, it is hard to call it a weak link.

They should make it to the semi-finals at least, however if you were to ask me who my pick was in a one and done format, it would be Germany.

Ukraine

Qualifying record:

6 wins, 1 draw, 3 losses

Top scorer:

Andriy Yarmolenko (6)

Projected top performer:

Andriy Yarmolenko – Yarmolenko is an exciting player, who brings flair to a team that desperately needs it.

At club level Yarmolenko has played nearly 200 games for Dynamo Kyiv first team, since joining them in 2007 and he has been on the radar of Premier League clubs for the last few seasons.

Everton and Stoke are known admirers however Dynamo’s president, Ihor Surkis was not set on the idea of him joining either side being quoted saying “He is already a top player, so he should go to a top club. My position is that we should not let Yarmolenko go to such clubs as Everton and Stoke City.”

If he plays to his full potential, he can grab a couple of goals in the early stages and prove to potential suitors that he is the real deal, but that’s about as much as he can do in my opinion. It is now reported that the club will let him go to any interested party should their asking price be met and Yarmolenko is happy with the team he is joining.

Yarmolenko also has a well-known rivalry with international team-mate, Taras Stepanenko who plays for Shakhtar Donetsk. In October 2015 Yarmonlenko nearly broke Stepanenko’s leg and whilst the two looked to make up after the game, it didn’t last long, as the former threw the shirt the pair had exchanged to the ground when thanking his fans.

In the next meeting Stepanenko kissed the badge in front of the away fans, leading to a brawl between the two where Yarmolenko kicked and beat Stepanenko to the ground.

Tension must be in the air still, even if they put their personal issues to one side for the sake of the team and that cannot be healthy.

Expectations:

Whilst I do think it will be a struggle for Ukraine to even get out of the group, they have been very solid under current head coach, Mykhaylo Fomenko. In his 34 games in charge, Ukraine have won 24, drawn 6 and lost just 4 a good achievement all things considered.

They struggled to qualify from a group that included Slovakia and Spain and as a result had to go through the play-offs, their reward – a very tough group.

I can’t see them getting a result against Germany or Poland and anything they can get against Northern Ireland may just be a consolation.

Yarmolenko was as good as ever in qualifying but he is not on the same level as someone like, Gareth Bale who may well able to drag his team through the group stages single-handedly. He may have support on the other wing from Yevhen Konoplyanka and the two can be dynamic in attack, but a team without an out-and-out striker is always going to struggle.

I cannot see Ukraine progressing from the group stages, despite their ability to shut up shop at the back (conceded just 4 goals in qualifying).

Poland

Qualifying record:

6 wins, 3 draws, 1 loss

Top scorer:

Robert Lewandowski (13)

Projected top performer:

Robert Lewandowski – Robert Lewandowski is one of the best strikers in the world and will be keen to put on a show this summer for his country.

He scored 42 goals in 51 games in all competitions at club level and his 13 goals in qualifying for this tournament took him to 34 goals in 76 appearances for his country.

Euro 2012 was his first and only major tournament appearance for his country, as he did not make his debut until after Euro 2008 and Poland failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

This is his chance to shine. Poland were great in qualifying, he was the top scorer across the whole of Euro 2016 qualifying and he can build on that in France.

Games against Northern Ireland and Ukraine represent great opportunities for him to score plenty of goals and that is why he is only just behind bookies’ favourite, Muller in the Top Goalscorer betting.

Muller has the advantage of a better side around him, but Lewandowski has a support cast of his own. Strike partner Akadiusz Milik scored 24 goals in 42 games at club level for Ajax this past season and the 22-year old has already scored 10 goals in 24 games at international level.

If Milik can take some of attention of his partner, Lewandowski could be very dangerous and similarly if all the focus is on Lewandowski it will open up chances for Milik, either way Lewandowski is the key for this team.

Expectations:

Poland have other stars in their ranks including Borussia Dortmund defender, Lukasz Pisczcek and Sevilla midfielder, Grzegorz Krychowiak and the squad looks solid across the board.

This is their best chance in recent years to go deep in a major finals and I do believe they can get to at least the Quarter-finals or even further. I do not think they can win it, as there are a few teams stronger than them, but a team that has a striker with the quality that Lewandoswki possesses will always stand a chance of winning any game on the day.

I fully expect Poland to qualify comfortably to the next round, and a Germany/Poland 1-2 finish looks the most likely outcome in this group.

Northern Ireland

Qualifying record:

6 wins, 3 draws, 1 loss

Top scorer:

Kyle Lafferty (7)

Projected top performer:

Steven Davis – Davis is the captain of the team and arguably the best player amongst the squad.

The midfielder goes quietly about his business popping up with the odd important goal at both club and international level – notably the 2 goals he scored against Greece to help secure his country’s spot in the finals.

He has been a regular for his country since making his debut in 2005 and became Northern Ireland’s youngest “modern-day” captain 10 years ago, at just 21 years of age.

Davis played a big part in Southampton’s successful Premier League season and for a manager like Ronald Koeman to hold in such high regard tells you something about his qualities as a footballer.

Coach, Michael O’Neill also has plenty of good things to say about his captain as, proved in an interview after the Greece game.

“There’s all types of captains, but for me Steven epitomises everything you want in a captain; he takes responsibility on the pitch, he drives the team forward, he’s an example in terms of how he is as a professional, how he is as a person,” he said. He also added “I didn’t expect him to score an 18-yard header if I’m honest, but I’m delighted for him to get the goal because in my opinion he’s one of the most underrated players in the Premier League, he’s a top, top, top player and he showed that again tonight.”

Expectations:

Whilst Northern Ireland enjoyed a great qualifying campaign and they will be ecstatic to make it to the finals for the first time in the nation’s history, I cannot see the fairytale lasting long.

Germany and Poland are strong opponents and even if they could somehow avoid defeat against either side, they would still have to beat Ukraine, which for me is a 50/50 game.

With the new rules, they could make the last-16 but I really do doubt it and it looks like an early exit for the European Championship newcomers.

A lot of the squad play in the lower leagues so whilst they may have a squad full of players that will put maximum effort in, they unfortunately lack the quality to have any real impact on this elite stage.

They are rank outsiders (500/1) alongside Albania and that is no doubt a fair reflection of their chances. The fans will no doubt enjoy the occasion and it is a good experience for all the players involved, young and old.

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