EURO 2016 preview, Group C: Poland, Ukraine, Northern Ireland take aim at Germany

Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
2 Comments

Germany

Perennial powers and reigning World Cup champions, Germany looks to build off a semifinal in 2012 and win its first Euro since 1996.

Game schedule:

June 12 — vs. Ukraine at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille
June 16 — vs. Poland at Stade de France in Saint-Denis
June 21 — vs. Northern Ireland at Parc des Princes in Paris

Star player: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich) — Okay, okay… using the star keeper is a total cop-out so we don’t have to select whether Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Mats Hummels, Mesut Ozil or any of Germany’s other megawatt stars is the best field player on the squad. But really, Neuer’s great.

Germany will win this tournament again because they are Germany and that’s what they do: win. Loaded from top-to-bottom, they are the one team that can topple France at home due to a mix of experience, guile and star power.

Or they won’t, because for whatever reason they’ve been mercurial in the run-up to the tournament and can’t flip the switch when it matters.


Ukraine

After qualifying as a host nation last cycle, Ukraine needed a playoff win to make a second-straight Euro.

Andriy Yarmolenko of Ukraine (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 12 — vs. Germany at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille
June 16 — vs. Northern Ireland at Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon
June 21 — vs. Poland at Stade Velodrome in Marseille

Star player(s): Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kyiv) and Yehven Konoplyanka (Sevilla) — Two players who can terrorize defenses and open up the play for forwards and fellow midfielders.

Ukraine will be the darlings of the tournament thanks to a cohesive bunch ready to give captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk a Euro to remember forever. With sneaky pace and a good mix of creativity and power, Ukraine wins the Group and makes a run to the final.

Their forwards could really let them down especially if the club rides a one-striker system. If you don’t have the guy for that job, you might want to find a better formation. Just saying.


Poland

After waiting 12 tournaments to debut, Poland is on its third-straight Euro. The White Eagles, however, are still looking to get out of the group stage.

POZNAN, POLAND - MARCH 23: Robert Lewandowski of Poland controls the ball during the international friendly soccer match between Poland and Serbia at the Inea Stadium on March 23, 2016 in Poznan, Poland. (Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)
Robert Lewandowski (Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 12 — vs. Northern Ireland at Allianz Riviera in Nice
June 16 — vs. Germany at Stade de France in Saint-Denis
June 21 — vs. Ukraine at Stade Velodrome in Marseille

Star player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich). 30 goals in 32 Bundesliga matches is good, I guess, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Poland will advance deep thanks to stingy goalkeeping and defense helping out unselfish midfielders working the ball to the best target man in the world.

There will be a lot of problems for Poland if Lewandowski does anything but absolutely star up top (although Ajax man Arkadiusk Milik is a true sleeper for this tournament).


Northern Ireland

Thrice in the World Cup, Northern Ireland makes its European Championship bow.

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Will Grigg of Northern Ireland celebrates after scoring during the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 27, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Will Grigg of Northern Ireland (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 12 — vs. Poland at Allianz Riviera in Nice
June 15 — vs. Albania at Stade Velodrome in Marseille
June 19 — vs. Switzerland at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille

Star player: Will Grigg (Wigan Athletic) — The striker is, after all, on fire.

They’ll shock the world because they are a team of fate with hard-nosed, committed, workmanlike players.

But really Norn Iron was fortunate to draw a qualifying group with Romania, Hungary, Finland, Faroe Islands and out-of-sorts Greece. It will take heroic defense and plenty of help to see the side out of the group basement.


Who’s going through, who’s going home: Germany is going through, but razor-thin margins separate Ukraine and Poland. The difference could be the pressure Ukraine is under after an opener against Germany, and we’ll just tip Poland for that reason. Tough luck for Northern Ireland.

Marquee match: The middle match for both Germany and Poland could be to clinch the group.

Top players to watch:

  1. Mesut Ozil, Germany
  2. Robert Lewandowski, Poland
  3. Thomas Muller, Germany
  4. Andriy Yarmolenko, Ukraine
  5. Manuel Neuer, Germany