2016 Euros Group C
FIFA Ranking: 5 – Winners: 1972, 1980, 1996
Current World Cup holders Germany head to France as one of the favourites and the most likely side to top Group C. After reaching the semi’s in the past two tournaments, Die Mannschaft would be backing themselves to break the Spanish hold on the Euro’s with the majority of their World Cup winning side still intact.
Bastian Schweinsteiger captains the side at their first major tournament since the retirement of Phillip Lahm, with the veteran midfielder looking to end a disappointing season off on a high. The Germans have a plethora of options in midfield, where Löw can build a formidable unit out of the likes of Kroos, Özil and Khedira while Neuer, Hummels and Boateng will be expected to hold the line in defense.
While Götze has struggled this past season at Bayern in attack, veteran finisher elite Mario Gómez experienced a fantastic season at the newly crowned Turkish champs Beşiktaş, and will be keen to make up for missing the World Cup through injury with a win at the Euros.
FIFA Ranking: 26
Having qualified with some style for the first ever Euro tournament and their first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup, the Northern Irish will be keen to make up more than just the numbers. They are however placed in a tough group with Poland and Ukraine arguably much stronger opposition than their qualifying opponents Romania & Hungary.
They will be lead from the midfield by Southampton veteran Steven Davis while the bulk of the squad is made up of English Championship and League One players, with star winger Chris Brunt missing the tournament through injury.
Qualification to the knockout stages is unlikely, although a defensive minded approach could see them sneak an upset against either of the Eastern Europeans.
FIFA Ranking: 27
Poland will fancy their chances of progressing past the pool stages for the first time ever, with star frontman Robert Lewandowski experiencing a devastating season with German champions Bayern Munich, scoring 42 goals in all competitions. Sevilla holding midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak will be the lynchpin for the side, while experienced wingers Kamil Grosicki and Jakub Błaszczykowski should provide ample support for their star striker.
A good result against Northern Ireland would be expected, and while they face Germany as underdogs, it is a tag that would suit them considering they have beaten them as recently as the qualifying matches. Qualification is likely, although much depends on the form and fitness of their frontman if they are to finally deliver on the international stage.
FIFA Ranking: 22
Reaching the expanded Euro tournament through the playoffs, Ukraine will look to play for more than just football with a mostly domestic side in a country that is struggling with secession and civil war. 37 year old midfielder and one of the stars of the 2006 World Cup, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk captains the side, while the star wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka will be expected to carry their attack.
With Shevchenko retired they are somewhat short of a goal scoring threat up front, which could well be their undoing in a highly defensive minded group. They start of the unenviable task of playing Germany first, with their final match against Poland likely to determine whether they will qualify for the knockout phase for only the second time in their short footballing history since that fantastic run at the 2006 World Cup.