Poland are one of the favourites to progress from Group C and they open their Euro 2016 campaign against Northern Ireland at the Allianz Riviera in Nice on Sunday, June 12.
The optimism about Poland’s progress in the tournament stems from their performance during qualifiers. Placed in a tough group that included Germany, Republic of Ireland and Scotland, Poland underlined their continental credentials by finishing second with just one loss in ten matches.
Their performance in the recent friendlies is a cause of concern, though, especially as it was against lower ranked non-competing nations. But, Poland utilized these matches to test their bench strength and new strategies, albeit with contrasting results. It hasn’t been ideal preparation for a major tournament but one can’t forget their excellent run prior to the defeat against Netherlands.
Historically though, Poland haven’t had good outings in the continental tournament. They failed to win even a single match in the 2008 and 2012 editions, the latter as co-hosts. Though this squad is extremely talented and is significantly different from the earlier ones, manager Adam Nawalka will be cautious to avoid a similar fate.
Northern Ireland have history behind them earning the credit of being the lowest seeded team ever to win a qualifying group for the Euros. Their performances doesn’t seem to enthuse analysts nevertheless, who predict that their stay would be short-lived in France. But take nothing away from this squad which is as dangerous as any underdog can ever be!
With a team that relies on defensive solidity and hard work, Northern Ireland could surprise a few in their group at the Euros. Under Michael O’Neill, they have grown in stature in the last couple of years eventually grabbing their place at the Euros. They lost just once in the entire qualifying campaign and would be hungry to prove their doubters wrong.
Poland were one of the top scoring team in the qualifiers with 33 goals in 10 matches. Their only defeat in the entire qualification came against Germany. They lost just once in their last seven encounters and that was in a friendly. It’s only in the absence of Lewandowski that this Polish side fails to dominate encounters which should be a concern for their opponents. A goalless draw against lowly Lithuania is a blot on their record but Poland and Lewandowski should be ready once the tournament kicks-off.
Northern Ireland are in the midst of a wonderful run that has seen them stay unbeaten in the last 12 matches. They have lost just once in the qualifiers and rely on their defensive capabilities. This is a team that is a perfect example of team work!
Key players and team news
Without a doubt, Lewandowski would be the centre of attention for Poland. His partnership with the exciting Ajax youngster Arkadiusz Milik in the final third could prove vital for them. The midfield will be mastered by Jakub Blaszczykowski who would look to benefit from the marauding runs of full back Lukas Piszczek.
Northern Ireland are a team devoid of super stars but back this team to trouble Poland. Kyle Lafferty scored seven goals in the qualifiers and is a major doubt for the opener after sustaining an injury during training. There are concerns over defender Craig Cathcart too but he is expected to recover in time and pair Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley in defense.
Poland haven’t won any of their last six Euro finals matches but this is a side that is built around attacking intents. Having scored 33 goals in qualifiers, back this side to score a few at the Euros. It was only once in their past ten matches that they failed to score and we could be in for another goal fest from them.
Northern Ireland are one of the toughest teams to play and the fact that they have not conceded more than one goal in a match for 14 encounters speaks high volumes. But they aren’t a high scoring team either and the absence of Lafferty could further hamper their attack.
Head-to-head stats indicate that Northern Ireland have a slight edge with four wins and three losses in the nine matches against Poland. But the last encounter was way back in 2006, after which there is a vast change in the teams’ compositions. Poland could edge Northern Ireland with a single goal in this encounter.
Poland to win at odds of 1.75 with Betfred