World champions Germany head the field in Group C as manager Joachim Loew seeks to replicate France and Spain by holding both world and European crowns at the same time.
Germany face Poland, Ukraine and Northern Ireland in one of the most interesting Euro Football 2016 tables this summer.
Poland and Ukraine co-hosted the previous tournament and their clash in the last round of group games could define who professes to the next stage.
Northern Ireland are hoping to upset the football betting odds in their first major tournament since 1986.
So, let’s take a look at who should qualify out of Group C, and who should have stayed at home…
Germany: Can Germany win the European Championship for the fourth time?
Three-time winners Germany head into these European Championships as definitively the best team in the world. They dominated their qualification group in the wake of winning the 2014 World Championship. Some experts thought Germany’s players would lose some of their desire after that victory in Brazil but manager Loew has ensured Die Mannschaft have not faltered.
Germany won their first Euros in 1972 — the first time they entered the competition — and clinched victories in 1980 and 1996. Terrible performances in 2000 and 2004 instigated a national change of attitude to football development in Germany and the country is now being rewarded for that action.
It’s hard to choose one man among the stars at Loew’s disposal but Thomas Muller, with 31 goals from 68 caps, is difficult to ignore. The Bayern Munich ace only made his international debut in 2010 but is widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world. The 26-year-old is closing in on a fifth Bundesliga title with Bayern, boasts a Champions League winners’ medal and has won the FIFA World Club Cup.
He is expected to succeed Bastian Schweinsteiger as Germany’s next captain once the Manchester United player retires. The odds are great to finish top scorer this summer.
Route to Euro Football 2016:
Germany actually faced Group C rivals Poland in qualifying — and they only just beat off the Poles for first place. Defeats to Poland and Scotland, plus a 1-1 draw with Ireland, appeared to have derailed Germany’s push for top place.
But they kept their nerve and won a final game 2-1 against Georgia to secure safe passage to Euro Football 2016.
If you think Germany might run out of steam then they are favourites to at least reach the final in the Stade de France. It’s a smart bet but there are larger odds out there. Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil is always going to be the favourite to finish with the most assists at Euro Football 2016. He provides a goal almost every other week in the Premier League and is a good bet to impress this summer.
Poland: Ready to make an impact on Euro Football 2016
Poland co-hosted Euro 2012 but failed to make it out of the group stage. In fact, their two Euro outings (in 2008 and 2012) have each seen them crash out before the knockout stage.
Poland’s World Championship record is far better. They placed third in 1974 and 1982, although again recent results have gone badly. They haven’t qualified for the last two World Championships and may struggle to make Russia 2018.
Robert Lewandowski is the engine of this team and everything goes through him. The striker has hit top form for Bayern Munich this season and will hopefully continue that into Euro Football 2016.
Lewandowski scored a staggering 13 goals in Euro qualifying, four more than second-place goalscorer in Group D Thomas Muller. The 27-year-old scored just once at Euro 2012 and more is expected of him this summer. He has great odds to top the golden boot when betting on Euro Football 2016.
Route to Euro Football 2016:
Poland pushed Germany hard for top spot in qualifying Group D but had to make do with second place. They finished three points above Ireland thanks to a 2-1 victory at home in the last game of Euro qualifying fixtures. Lewandowski, of course, scored the winner and he will be crucial to the country’s progress this summer.
Arkadiusz Milik and Kamil Grosicki, however, also impressed in qualifying and they will be key to Poland progressing out of Group C. The two attackers enjoy fluid football and linked up well with Lewandowski in qualifying.
Poland should really finish second in this group without a problem. They are the in-form side heading into the tournament and are expected to beat both Northern Ireland and Ukraine. Indeed, they have great odds to beat Ukraine in the last game of the group stage — a smart bet.
Ukraine: Facing a very tough competition
Ukraine hosted Euro 2012 with Poland and fared no better than their neighbours. They finished third in Group D behind England and France. A 2-1 win over Sweden gave them hope but losing to the English 1-0 ended the dream of making the quarter-finals.
Andriy Yarmolenko acts as the midfield pivot for Ukraine. He links up the defence with attack and scored four goals in Euro Football 2016 qualifying. The Dynamo Kiev ace can find space few other players know exist but also reads the defensive game well. His performances in France will be key for Ukraine and he has incredible odds to finish as top assist-maker in the tournament — a huge price but he will be part of any action Ukraine provide.
Route to Euro Football 2016:
Ukraine were seeded in pot two for Euro qualifying but failed to live up expectations. They were stunned 1-0 at home to Slovakia in the opening round of fixtures and ended up finishing exactly three points their usurpers. Because of that, Ukraine finished third in their group and had to qualify through a playoff round.
They beat Slovenia 2-0 in the first leg at home and held out for a 1-1 draw in Maribor to secure progression to France this summer.
Ukraine are not fancied to do anything this summer. If they finish third in Group C, as expected, they could play winners from either Group B or Group A, which will likely be France or England. Can Ukraine progress to the quarter-finals?
Northern Ireland: Fighting for second place
Hope drove Northern Ireland to their first major championships in 30 years and hope will again be the fuel if they are to shock Europe this summer. This is Northern Ireland’s first appearance in the European Championships but they do boast a World Championship pedigree. In 1958 they fell 4-0 to France in the quarter-finals, made the second round in 1982 and fell at the group stage in 1986.
Kyle Lafferty scored seven goals in Euro Football 2016 qualifying but there is a problem. At the end of the transfer window the striker had played as many times for Northern Ireland than his club side Norwich this season. He was linked with a move to Leeds United during the January transfer window in the hope he would get games ahead of Euro Football 2016. If Lafferty isn't loaned out in the second half of the season then Northern Ireland’s star man will have barely kicked a competitive ball for a year heading to France. That is a concern, even if it means he will be fresh for the action ahead.
The optimist could put something on Northern Ireland to finish top of Group C. But a smarter bet would be to examine how many points they could get in this group. Betting on Northern Ireland to finish with zero points is tempting — but if qualifying taught us anything it’s that Northern Ireland are ready to play with the big boys.View market