Northern Ireland will look to continue their dream run when they challenge world champions Germany for an unlikely win that could take them to knockouts. This Euro 2016 Group C encounter will be the last of the group stage and would be played at the Parc des Princes on Monday, June 21.
Northern Ireland were the underdogs of the group and they proved it with a determined performance against Poland in their group opener. Though they eventually lost that match 1-0, the dogged determination of Northern Ireland was a huge positive for them to build on from that loss. The defeat ended their unbeaten 12 match streak but they had enough skill to bounce back with a 2-0 victory over Ukraine in their second match. Dropping Kyle Lafferty in favor of Conor Washington proved to be an inspired decision for the underdogs. Northern Ireland had some nervy moments in the game but held their ground to keep their knock-out hopes alive.
The Irish have three points from the two encounters and can book their spot in the round of 16 with another dogged performance. A win will put them in pole position for automatic qualification while a draw could still parachute them into contention for the best third-placed teams. They may not have players of individual brilliance but their team spirit should help them challenge the Germans.
All this will not be music to the ears of Germans who find themselves in the midst of severe criticism for their lack of goals. Joachim Low has seen success playing without an out and out striker but this tournament hasn’t witnessed the cutting edge of that system. They opened with a very nervy 2-0 win over Ukraine with a display that hasn’t justified their top billing as favorites. The presence of Mario Gotze as false nine was ineffective and only the midfield brilliance of Toni Kroos helped them cross the line unscathed. It was more of the same against Poland with the midfield dominating possession but with no visible cutting edge, Germany never looked in control of the game. In fact, Germany might have felt a bit relieved at coming out with a point from the game which could easily have ended in a victory for Poland.
With four points from two games, Germany are in top position in the group but a loss to Northern Ireland can easily push them out of automatic qualification places. Four points could be enough for them to still qualify for the next round but Germany will not want to risk their chances.
Northern Ireland under Michael O’Neill have developed a reputation as one of the most stubborn teams to break down in recent times. Just one loss in the previous 14 matches vouch for that record as does their frugal record in conceding goals.
For all their credentials, Germany have a very poor recent record ahead of this game – four losses and five wins of their last ten encounters. Without an incisive striker, the Germans could be hard pressed against Northern Ireland.
Key players and team news
Northern Ireland could stick with the same team that served them well against Ukraine. Lafferty was their top scorer from qualification but the presence of Washington served them well in the last match which could prove difficult for Lafferty to break into the side.
Low is hardly known to tinker his sides and system but two consecutive toothless displays may force his hand. Gotze may make way for Gomez to lead the attack while there is a strong case for inclusion of Andre Schurrle or Leroy Sane at Julian Draxler’s expense.
Northern Ireland haven’t lost any of their last 15 matches by more than a single goal – a testimony to their defensive capabilities. They aren’t heavy scorers either with just eight of the previous ten encounters ending in under 2.5 goals.
To say that Germany have been flat after their World Cup win is to say the obvious. Goals from this side come at a premium with only three wins of their previous ten matches achieved by a margin of two or more goals.
All this points to another low scoring encounter and don’t be surprised if Northern Ireland comes out with a draw.
Under 2.5 goals at odds of 2.0 with Betfred.