Euro 2016: Germany favourites in heavily polarised Group C
KARACHI: When you compare the teams in Group C to other groups, you come to realise this is the most polarised group both in terms of the teams’ strengths and their history.
Germany — who have qualified for the European Championships a record 12 times — are simply out-and-out favourites to progress to the round-of-16. Poland, whose 33 goals were the most in qualifying, are primed to finish second.
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Northern Ireland, making their first-ever Euros appearance, and Ukraine, whose only appearance came in 2012 when they were co-hosts along with Poland, will be left to vie for a good third-place finish in order to reach the knockout stages.
But football is filled with major upsets and, while it may seem highly unlikely given the form of the teams, one cannot rule out the possibility of one of the minnows dampening the spirits of the giants.
The reigning world champions are looking to achieve the rare feat of following their World Cup win with a Euro triumph. Their form, understandably, dwindled a bit after their 1-0 win over Argentina in the World Cup final, but following their 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland in October 2014, Joachim Low’s men won six out of their seven qualifying fixtures and enter the finals high on confidence.
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While injury to Marco Reus is unfortunate, given that the outstanding Dortmund superstar missed the World Cup in Brazil as well, the Germans have ample firepower in attack.
All eyes will be on Thomas Muller — who leads Die Mannschaft’s goalscoring charts — to lead the attack, while the return of skipper Bastian Schweinsteiger will also boost the side.
It would be safe to predict that the Germans would reach the knockout stages with flying colours; failure to do so may rank among football’s greatest ever shocks.
Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Bernd Leno (Bayer Leverkusen), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)
Defenders: Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Emre Can (Liverpool), Jonas Hector (Cologne), Benedikt Howedes (Schalke), Shkodran Mustafi (Valencia), Antonio Rudiger (Roma)
Midfielders: Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Sami Khedira (Juventus), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Julian Draxler (Wolfsburg), Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Manchester United), Julian Weigl (Borussia Dortmund)
Forwards: Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Andre Schurrle (Wolfsburg), Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray), Mario Gomez (Besiktas), Leroy Sane (Schalke)
Despite not having ever sent a team to the European Championships, Northern Ireland have impressed everyone with their remarkable qualifying campaign, topping Group F despite being pitted against much stronger teams such as Romania, Hungary, Finland and Greece.
Norwich City forward Kyle Lafferty is the top scorer for Norn Iron, while Niall McGinn is the main supplier with four assists.
While their qualifying campaign has been outstanding, much of it has been based on a counter-attacking style of play which has allowed them to concede only eight goals.
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A similar style and some luck might allow them to pip Ukraine to the knockout stages, but Michael O’Neill’s men have to be at their best if they want to build on their impressive showing.
Goalkeepers: Roy Carroll (Linfield), Michael McGovern (Hamilton Academical), Alan Mannus (St Johnstone)
Defenders: Jonny Evans (West Bromwich Albion), Gareth McAuley (West Bromwich Albion), Craig Cathcart (Watford), Conor McLaughlin (Fleetwood Town), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Lee Hodson (MK Dons), Luke McCullough (Doncaster Rovers), Aaron Hughes (Melbourne City)
Midfielders: Stuart Dallas (Leeds United), Chris Baird (Derby County), Jamie Ward (Nottingham Forest), Steven Davis (Southampton), Oliver Norwood (Reading), Corry Evans (Blackburn Rovers), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Paddy McNair (Manchester United)
Forwards: Kyle Lafferty (Birmingham City), Conor Washington (Queens Park Rangers), Josh Magennis (Kilmarnock), Will Grigg (Wigan Athletic)
Poland, nicknamed The White and Reds, enter the competition hoping to register their first win in the European Championships.
While they came extremely close to qualifying for the final in 1976 and 1980 — on both occasions they were thwarted by Netherlands — they only managed to secure their place on the 13th time of asking in 2008 when they topped the group comprising of Portugal, Serbia and Belgium.
Four years later, they qualified for the competition as co-hosts, along with Ukraine. And in both occasions, they failed to get past the group stages.
But while history is not on Adam Nawalka’s side, they have tournament top-scorer and one of the world’s most feared strikers with them this time around; Robert Lewandowski.
The Bayern Munich superstar has been in prolific form for both club and country, finishing the season as Bundesliga’s top scorer with 30 goals and also finding the net 13 times in the qualifying campaign for Poland. In addition to his goalscoring exploits, he has also helped others find the net as well, recording four assists.
While Lewandowski will be the focal point of Poland’s attack, Arkadiusz Milik (six goals and six assists) and Kamil Grosicki (four goals and four assists) also present a potent attacking threat.
Goalkeepers: Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City), Wojciech Szczesny (AS Roma), Artur Boruc (Bournemouth)
Defenders: Thiago Cionek (Palermo), Kamil Glik (Torino), Artur Jedrzejczyk (Legia Warsaw), Michal Pazdan (Legia Warsaw), Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund), Bartosz Salamon (Cagliari), Jakub Wawrzyniak (Lechia Gdansk)
Midfielders: Jakub Blaszczykowski (Fiorentina), Kamil Grosicki (Rennes), Tomasz Jodlowiec (Legia Warsaw), Bartosz Kapustka (Cracovia), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Sevilla), Karol Linetty (Lech Poznan), Krzysztof Maczynski (Wisla), Slawomir Peszko (Lechia Gdansk), Filip Starzynski (Zaglebie Lubin), Piotr Zielinski (Empoli)
Forwards: Arkadiusz Milik (Ajax), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Mariusz Stepinski (Ruch Chorzow)
Ukraine, the major breeding ground for the Soviet Union before their dissolution in 1992, only made their independent appearance at the European Championships in 2012 when they, along with Poland, were the co-hosts.
Led by then-captain Andriy Shevchenko, the Yellow-Blues finished third in their group behind England and France. This time around, Mykhailo Fomenko’s men are hoping to get past the group stage for the very first time.
Goalkeepers: Denis Boyko (Besiktas), Andriy Pyatov (Shakhtar), Mykyta Shevchenko (Zorya)
Defenders: Bohdan Butko (Shakhtar), Artem Fedetskyy (Dnipro), Yevhen Khacheridi (Dynamo Kiev), Olexandr Kucher (Shakhtar), Yaroslav Rakitskiy (Shakhtar), Viacheslav Shevchuk (Shakhtar)
Midfielders: Denis Garmash (Dynamo Kiev), Oleksandr Karavayev (Zorya), Yevhen Konoplyanka (Sevilla), Viktor Kovalenko (Shakhtar), Ruslan Rotan (Dnipro), Serhiy Rybalka (Dynamo Kiev), Taras Stepanenko (Shakhtar), Sergiy Sydorchuk (Dynamo Kiev), Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (Kairat), Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kiev)
Forwards: Pylyp Budkivsky (Zorya), Yevhen Seleznyov (Shakhtar), Roman Zozulya (Dnipro), Alexander Zinchenko (Ufa)