With the 2016 UEFA Euro Championship right around the corner, all eyes will be on France starting June 10, 2016, through July 10, 2016.
Before you pencil in Germany for top spot in Group C, you should know that this group could provide us with some entertaining games that should leave us with some unexpected results. Yes, Germany are the class of this group and are reigning World Champions, but Poland have already beat them in qualifying. Ukraine went toe-to-toe with Spain twice in qualifying with a 1-0 loss to show both times. Should Germany slip up even once, Poland will be ready to take advantage of the opportunity.
Here are your four nations comprising Group C. Futures provided by Bovada.
The four-time World Champions come into this tournament in the same form that they have been in for the past decade. Always powerhouses, the Germans sit among the favorites to capture their first Euro title since 1996. They are also looking to join Spain as one of the very few countries to win a World Cup and then follow that up with a Euro triumph. Germany is +400 to raise the trophy on July 10, which puts them as co-favorites with France. They are -300 favorites to top Group C, which is steep in my opinion.
How they got here:
Qualifying is usually elementary for a nation so rich in history. However, qualifying for Euro 2016 proved to be somewhat difficult. The Germans were able to beat out Poland for top spot by a single point. They were well beaten by Poland 2-0 in Warsaw and had a second slip up against Ireland in the second-to-last fixture. The defense was shaky during qualifying in large part to the absence of captain Philipp Lahm and Per Mertesacker. They conceded a shocking nine goals, which was two more than the Republic of Ireland.
I see Germany lining up in their favorite 4-2-3-1 formation with a lone striker (likely Mario Gotze or Thomas Mueller) being supplied great ball after great ball. It's the defense that will be the issue. Poland exploited that weakness in qualifying, and look for teams to try and duplicate those same tactics.
Win. Win. Win. It's as simple as that. With a team that is as stacked and as talented as Germany is on a yearly basis, anything short of a trip to the finals is a failure. Should they top the group (likely), they will have smooth sailings into the semi-final, where I expect France to be waiting. A loss to the host nation wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but for "Die Mannschaft" winning is the only thing that is acceptable.
Poland will be participating in only their third European tournament this year to date. The last one - in 2012 - was as co-hosts, and they didn't win a
game. Polish fans all over the world hope this year is much different. They have been in fine form in qualifying and will be expecting a good showing at
this year's tournament. They are priced accordingly and sit at +4000 to win the tournament and +400 to finish top of the group. With the goal-scoring
firepower Poland posses, topping the group might not be that far
How they got here:
Poland arrives in France after a qualifying campaign that saw them score more goals than any other team in qualifying (33 goals in just 10 games). They finished second - by a point - to reigning World Champions Germany, and the highlight of their campaign was a 2-0 win over the Germans in Poland. They have conceded 10 goals in qualifying, which is a goal-a-game, but should they be unable to mix in a clean sheet once in a while it will be tough to get any results.
It can be argued that this version of the 4-2-3-1 formation is essentially a 4-5-1 formation with Robert Lewandowski left alone up top to lead the attack. Poland is known for their lightning-quick counter-attacking ability, and they will need to make their opportunities count when they get them. Lewandowski is the star, but his form in qualifying will be hard to duplicate against better opponents. He tallied 13 goals in qualifying and 41 goals during his club season.
Expectations are high, but it's a different kind of high. Winning a game would be a start, and this group presents a favorable chance for Poland to finally escape the group stage. It would be hard to envision them winning the group, but I think it's actually possible. Second place would be the right result which would put them in a toss up Round of 16 matchup against an opponent similar in talent.
Northern Ireland makes a triumphant return to a major tournament since last competing in the 1986 World Cup. It is hard to envision this squad doing any damage in the group stage and they are +3300 to finish in first. They are one of the highest-priced long shots on the board at +25000 to win their first major tournament. Even if your thinking of putting a couple dollars on them for fun, I'd suggest giving it to charity instead.
How they got here:
Surprisingly, Northern Ireland finished atop their qualifying group. The group was far from strong but had the likes of Romania, Hungary and 2004 winners Greece. They lost only one match, and that was away to Romania. They were dominant on home soil and were able to pick up points with ease.
I see Northern Ireland lining up in a 4-4-1-1 formation and relying heavily on Kyle Lafferty to lead the charge. Lafferty scored seven goals in qualifying, which isn't the worst number you could produce. However, the Irish scored 12 of their 16 goals directly off crosses, and seven of those were from set pieces (corner kicks or free kicks). Maintaining that production will be tough against quality defenders, but they do have the ability to threaten through set pieces. That is very worrisome for opponents.
It's hard to imagine the Irish fans being optimistic about progressing through their group, but they should give us one of those "are you kidding" type moments. They should make a respectable exit after losing to Germany and probably Poland, but they could take comfort in the fact that facing Ukraine is a game where they could take all three points.
The unforgettable memory I have of Ukraine is watching Ukrainian legend Andriy Shevchenko leading his country to the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup. The forgettable memory I have is the disaster that was the 2012 Euro Cup, which happened on home soil. The Ukrainians are priced at +650 to win the group (after an opening-match loss to Germany, this won't happen) and +8000 to win the entire tournament. Doubtful.
How they got here
They were far from impressive in qualifying and benefitted by finishing with one of the best records for a third-place finisher. They were able to handle Slovenia in the playoff via a 3-1 aggregate win. They were solid defensively, conceding only five times in 12 matches, but the level of competition was nowhere near what they will face in France.
It will likely be a 4-3-3 formation that will rely on their wingers to supply most of the goals and opportunities. On the defensive side of the ball, the back line is old and slow and could be run off the pitch by any given team. They have a 37-year-old center back captain, Anatoliy Tymoschuk), a 36-year-old left back, Vyacheslav Shevchuk, and a 34-year-old midfielder, Ruslan Rotan.
Should things go as expected, their matchup against Poland will be the final decision maker on who finishes in second place in Group C. Ukraine will feel like a knockout stage berth is in the cards, but it will only happen if they perform above their heads.
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