The Road to UEFA Euro 2016: Group C (The Matt Stabs Australia in the Back for Germany Group)
Breaking news alert; Euro 16 is THIS FRIDAY! Someone get that Final Fantasy music playing!
Yes the tournament of the summer is upon us folks, which means the boys and I are going to have to move quickly if we’re going to finish this prediction extravaganza. Luckily Group A and B are in the books and we’ll be knocking two more out today with Group’s C and D. As you can imagine C is first and this, like the last one, is an emotional one. Why? Because a) Northern Ireland is involved, which means the chosen fifth man of this group Randall (who had to bow out due to a rustling of the jimmies) will be reading this with more excitement than when he sees Becky Lynch appear on his TV and b) Matt Mortensen is about to betray his home country for Germany. Don’t’ worry; I’ll have more to say on that in a minute. So let’s not waste time; Moses, time to expand your meme duties.
Cult: The only negative about Germany is that Mortensen is going to claim they’re his club even though he’s Australian, a massive Tim Cahill fan (and you don’t root for Cahill and not pull for the Socceroos) and hasn’t lived in Germany since he was an infant. Other than that what can I say about this German team that hasn’t already been said about Mad Max: Fury Road; it’s a juggernaut with masterpiece potential. That’s not a joke; you don’t roll out the best keeper in the world (Manuel Neuer), a who’s who of world class players across the defensive line, midfield and forward spots and the dude who won the World Cup two years ago (Mario Gotze) and not be out of this world good. For the love of all things; Emre Can, one of my favorite young players in football right now, might not even play that much for this team they’re so good. What I’m pretty much trying to say is that Germany is not only winning this group but probably the whole damn thing. They’re that freakin good. Anything less than a semi-final spot is a disappointment, and if they somehow fail to make it to the Knockout Stage then Germany should be banned from football for the next five years. And not just the national team; shut it all down. It would be that embarrassing.
Oliver: The World Cup winners have had a somewhat bumpy ride since winning in Brazil, and got spanked 3-1 by Slovakia on Sunday. Slovakia! Who aren’t even going to make it out of Group B! It seems like the German team are developing a habit of just not turning up for Friendlies, as they keep losing them – with the exception of thumping Italy 4-1 prior to that Slovakia defeat, they’ve only won one since lifting the big golden globe two years ago – against Spain at the end of 2014. Then again, their competitive record has been alright and they eased through their group with only two defeats – one to the Republic of Ireland and one against their group rivals here Poland. I’ve got a feeling we might not be seeing the same Germany we saw tear Brazil a second butthole in Belo Horizonte this time around, but they should still make it through the group, especially if Mr. Muller starts firing on all cylinders hastily.
Ryan: Ah, one of the favourites! The most recent World Cup winners haven't actually won the European Championship for 20 years! Joachim Löw, the German Eric Bischoff, will be hoping to change that. Look though this team and you will recognise many a name. Neuer, ter Stegen, Hummels, Can, Boateng, Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Özil, Schürrle, Podolski, Draxler, Müller, Weigl, Kroos, Götze, Gómez... Talk about a full-strength squad. Arguably, the Germans are most loaded in midfield; though don't sleep on their ability to score. Many talk about the lack of recognised strikers in the German squad though they are specialists for breeding high-scoring midfielders who are recognised as forwards in their own right - just ask Müller and Götze. What more can I say? This is the juggernaut.
Matt: I can't even begin to describe how gutted I am with Marco Reus missing ANOTHER big time tournament through injury. Absolutely gutted. We had some enthralling and hard fought wins in the qualifying process. Notably against Gibraltar. 4-0 and 7-0 wins. Jokes aside, we were a little disappointing in the qualifying period for me and I'm not sure how to take that. I do believe in momentum, and that we don't have. We have lost to Slovakia 3-1, lost to England and lost to France recently. So we enter this tournament having lost three of our last four games. How good was that World Cup final? I can't wait to see Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller here. They are both in the prime of their careers and if you thought they were good at the World Cup well I have news for you. They've improved. I am a little wary of our defence though. Nine goals in our last four games aren’t good enough. Letting it three against Slovakia and England just isn't on. They may be friendly fixtures but we can't be playing like that here. Mats Hummels is our key guy down back and I'm sure he's going to do a stellar job. We have lost to Poland recently too so it puts that little doubt in my mind that we'll have this group all to our liking. But at the end of the day I think we have the best squad and depth not only in this group but in the tournament and I'll be totally shocked if we don't make the final. We'll finish top of this group.
Matt: So I think Ukraine are the first country we have talked about so far that has qualified thanks to the third place playoffs. I don't like their chances here. They don't have enough firepower to match Germany or Poland. Yevhen Konoplyanka will be their saving grace here if they have one. I do like that their squad has champions league but I don't know how that will transfer over. Or if it will at all for that matter. If Yevhen Konoplyanka or Andriy Yarmolenko gets injured they will be screwed even more than they already are. Add to the fact that they have quite an old squad and that they have some of their defenders in their mid 30's I wouldn't be shocked at all to see a 3-0 Germany and Poland wins against Ukraine here. They must hope for a win against Northern Ireland and take that as a success here because that's the best they can do. They'll be finishing third here.
Cult: I’ll admit I don’t know a ton about Ukraine, but a quick look at the roster actually makes me feel good about their chances. It’s a squad that has played a lot together both on the national team and for Ukrainian powers Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv (13 of the 23 players are from both clubs) and has a dynamic midfield scorer in Andriy Yarmolenko. Frankly the only downside they have is that they play against the Germans in the first game, which is likely to leave them in a tiny bit of a hole. Beyond that I can see them competing quite well with the other two teams and would expect them to make the Knockout Stage either as the second or third place team.
Oliver: You can get odds of 80/1 on Ukraine winning Euro 2016 and I urge you all to go out and bet responsibly on them doing just that because they are my tip to win it all. All of it. Golden boot, golden glove, and the big silver trophy at the end. Oh yes, Ukraine is the team to beat. They have a ridiculous amount of talent going forward in Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka, Tymoshchuk to anchor the midfield as they flirt with the ball in the final third, and a decent defense that should repel most attacks. The only thing they are lacking is a true finisher up top – oh how Shevchenko must dream of playing with the talent they’d have behind him now. But! Fear not! This team will be all about goals from the attacking midfielders, and I think they will surprise many (but not I, for I know of their greatness) by winning this group and romping to the final. Oh yes. All the way, they will go.
Ryan: The most capped player of the entire tournament, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (with 142), leads the Ukraine team to the European Championships. Besides the Bayern Munich man, the only player I'm familiar with is the high-scoring Dynamo Kiev midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko. However, a total of 6 players have more than 50 caps and 9 have more than 40. That wealth of experience will come in handy, as this is a team that is used to losing. That's just as dangerous as winning sometimes! Since being recognised in their own right in 1992, the Ukraine’s have only qualified for one World Cup and one European Championship (the latter as a result of an automatic host spot). To have so many players in the squad who have experienced numerous qualifying disappointments makes them very dangerous now that they have the opportunity. I don't think anyone has ever said that Ukraine is an easy win. They are a battling team, and now they really have something to fight for. Watch out Poland and Northern Ireland.
Ryan: Looking at this Polish team, I can't help but simply think that the key to their success rests with one man and one man only - Robert Lewandowski. He's scored one goal in around every two games, a record that is admittedly matched by the lesser-capped young striker Milik. Okay, make that two men. As long as their opposition doesn’t allow Poland to hoof the ball up the pitch to either man, I don't see them causing a lot of problems.
Matt: Well Poland, my neighbouring buddies. Did they shock anyone else or was it just me? I know I wasn't expecting them to be the highest scoring nation in qualifying. They only lost once in qualifying, to us, but they then proceeded to beat us 2-0 at home. I'm not saying they are going to win the whole thing but there is a funny feeling to this squad. They could very well give the tournament a shake up and I could see them making the quarters. How good is Robert Lewandowski? There is not many more than I like to watch in world football more than Robert Lewandowski. He's going to make quite a formidable duo upfront with Arkadiusz Milik. As much as I like the thought of what those two can do I worry about their backline. They only kept a clean sheet in four of their qualifying matches and their best performance was undoubtedly against us when they won 2-0. I don't like how easily they concede goals and the stupid decisions they make that lead to them. They can't be making those mistakes if they want to progress out of this group. I think a player who needs to step up and who I think will be vital to the success of Milik and Lewandowski upfront is Jakub Blaszczykowski. I don't think they have enough to stop us from leaving the group stage on top but I see no reason as to why Poland won't leave here in second place.
Cult: Let’s do a little good news, bad news for Poland. The good news is they have the best non German player in this group (and possibly the best player in the group period) in Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski, the perfect complimentary striker in 22 year old Arkaduisz Milik, one of the most underrated keepers in football (Wojciech Szczesny) and a squad, like Ukraine’s, that has played a lot together. The bad news is that their midfield and defensive units don’t quite measure up to their attack, which isn’t going to be good when Germany and Ukraine are pounding Szczesny or Artur Buroc twenty times a game. That’s a bigger concern for the Knockout Stage than Group and ultimately Lewandowski and Milik should put enough goals in to get Poland a second or third place finish. Don’t be surprised if this is the squad that disappoints though.
Oliver: Robert Lewandowski. That is all I know. I think Poland have a similar issue to England in that they have the talent going forward in Lewandowski and his striking cohorts, but defensively they’re a bit ropey, and two of their goal keepers are Fabianski and Szczęsny, which kind of says it all. I don’t think Boruc is all that good, either. Edged out by Germany in the group because they couldn’t convert draws to wins – one win instead of draw would have seen them trump their border buddies – I think they’ll be out for revenge here but might end up leaving red faced if they get upset by Northern Ireland in their opening game. Such a result might put them on the back foot and mean they have to go all out against the two stronger teams in the group, and I could see them getting wrecked as a result. I’m even tempted to suggest they don’t scrape the coveted third place in the group here and end up limping home with a Eurovision-esque nil points. You heard it here first.
Oliver: You know how the big story is that Jamie Vardy has gone from Fleetwood Town to England in a few short years? Northern Ireland actually has a player from Fleetwood Town in their squad! Conor McLaughlin plays at right back for them. They actually have a nice blend of experience and youth going into this, having won their qualifying group ahead of Hungary and Romania with only one defeat. That’s a better record than Germany! Northern Ireland to win it all! Or…well, maybe not. I don’t know how to predict Northern Ireland, because I want them to do well as a Home Nation, but I’m not sure whether against the sides they’ve been drawn up against they have a chance. I hope for them that they maybe get third ahead of Poland and reach the last 16 as a best placed runner up. That would be nice. Kyle Lafferty might add to his 17 international goals, while Aaron Hughes must be hoping for his 100th international cap to come. Ultimately, they might end up whipping boys, but I think they’ll have a surprisingly good go and maybe, just maybe, rock one of their more renowned group mates.
Ryan: Michael O'Neill achieved a miracle when he guided Northern Ireland to their first ever European Championship and their first competitive finals since 1986. There's a lot of optimism surrounding this team. Will Grigg is on fire, as I'm sure you know by now. Manchester United fans should recognise Roy Carroll, Jonny Evans and current youngster Paddy McNair as part of the squad, whereas 18 of the 23 also get their wages from the English leagues. If they're used to the pace of the English game, they might well fare better against some of the faster players in their group - Müller, Götze etc! They'll be battling for second. The question is will they get it?
Matt: Randy must be really proud that his country, Northern Ireland, have finally come back to a major tournament. It's been 30 years!! The guy is celebrating his 50th birthday shortly and has been waiting for this moment since he was 20. He must be a very proud man. I am personally surprised that they finished top in their group. I honestly didn't see much from the group bar the results so I don't know if they have improved out of sight or if I've just been underestimating them. I'm a big believer in momentum when it comes to tournaments and Northern Ireland is on a ten game unbeaten run. They honestly have nothing to lose here against much more fancied opponents. I expect them to go out and shake things up a bit and play an exciting brand of football. The one thing I've always like about Northern Ireland is their fight and will to play for one another and the winning attitude they have. I'm glad Steven Davis has the chance to play in a big time tournament. I quite like the man personally. Chris Brunt is a huge loss for this team. It weakens what looked to be an already weak attack upfront. They don't have a lot of depth; they don't have a lot of talent to pick from so it's going to be all up to Kyle Lafferty to score the goals for Northern Ireland here. That's why I'm intrigued to see how they'll play. They won't be progressing with three draws but I see their strength as their back line. Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley both of whom suit up next to each other at West Brom and Craig Cathcart who plays for Watford will offer them something down back. All in all it’s going to be very hard for Northern Ireland to leave this tournament with a win. I think a draw will be the best they can do. Would be shocked if they didn't finish bottom of this group.
Cult: Say what you will about the Northern Irish; at least they’re here. More than we can say for the Dutch right?! That’s pretty much were the positives end for the love of Randall Morrison’s life however. I’m not saying the Northern Irish aren’t good; in fact in another group I could potentially see them competing for a second or third place spot. In this group though? No dice. They simply don’t have the experience in top level competitions such, a dependable keeper (38 year old Roy Carroll is near the end while Michael McGovern and Alan Mannus have 25 less caps than Carroll combined) or anyone that can score outside of Kyle Lafferty (barring a breakout from future Queens Park Rangers star Conor Washington. Only in my dreams I know). I think they’ll be pesky and I’d love to see them steal a game, but at best I see them maybe getting a point. Sorry Randall. There’s always four years from now!
Cult: Germany takes first easily; I wouldn’t be surprised if they got three straight wins just to reaffirm their dominance in the face of some poor friendlies. The conversation then turns to whether Ukraine or Poland takes second and I’m going to be honest; I think this one comes down to goal differential after both teams finish with four points (loss to Germany, tie against each other, win over Northern Ireland). In the end I’ll say Ukraine gets a couple more goals to give them second, while Poland makes the Knockout Round with a third place finish anyway.
Oliver: 1. Ukraine 2. Germany 3. Northern Ireland 4. Poland.
Ryan: Germany will clearly pick up the first place slot in this group. They're high on confidence following their fairly recent competitive success, and they have a squad so full of depth and talent. Second place is anyone's guess. I think Poland will take it as even if Germany score a lot past them, their goal difference thanks to their prolific strikers might well help them. As for third? I just can't call it between Ukraine and Ireland, though either way; I do think both teams have enough about them to be one of the third place qualifiers.
Matt: Well I thought the last group was pretty straightforward. No chance Germany and Poland aren't first and second in this group. They'll finish Germany 1st and Poland 2nd. As great of a story it is for Northern Ireland and it will be nice to see them in this tournament they just don't have the squad to do anything here. I hope they can score a goal at least. Ukraine to finish 3rd and Northern Ireland in 4th.
And so it ends. We’ll be back later today folks with Group D. Till then, a picture of Gandalf the Gorilla!