A test for Die Mannschaft

Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger and Andre Schuerrle. - Reuters

WHEN Germany's squad was announced, there was shock at Marco Reus's omission. Head coach Joachim Loew said he wasn't fit and had to leave the talented attacker out.

Whether he is in the team or not, many are predicting Germany to win this tournament as most of their World Cup winning players are in the squad. This reminds me of a quote by Gary Linekar: "Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win".

With stars like Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller, Mats Hummels and Manuel Neuer, it is no wonder many are predicting them to win the trophy – but they have to go through the group hurdle first.

Poland has many talented players while Ukraine is known for their industry and strength. Northern Ireland will find it tough in this group but the experience of playing against top teams will be good for them.

Here's a look at the group C teams:


The decision to select Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger instead of Julian Brandt and Karim Bellarabi baffles me. Joachim Loew's logic was they lacked fitness but they were brilliant for Bayer Leverkusen last season and I'm sure they would give their all for the national team.

Podolski wasn't at his consistent best with Turkish giants Galatsaray, while Schweinsteiger struggled with fitness issues at Manchester United. But even without the Brandt and Bellarabi, the team still looks strong and the core of the 2014 World Cup winning squad is still there.

With the second-youngest squad average age in the Euro at 25 years, Loew's team actually is pretty experienced at the international stage. Mario Goetze, 24, scored the World Cup winning goal in 2014, Toni Kroos, 26, bossed the midfield in Brazil, unorthodox yet efficient Thomas Mueller is only 26 and Mesut Ozil, the man tasked to provide the ammunition, is only 27.

These four have experienced the feeling of lifting a trophy and will surely want to do it again. The absence of Philip Lahm has left a void on the right side of their defence and Loew has been trying to find a right replacement, and Jonas Hector and Antonio Rudiger are nowhere near Lahm's standards.

They have a strong squad but Loew will surely want Schweinsteiger to be at his best. As the team captain, he will want to prove a point and let's hope he can lift the youngsters to greater heights. This is the best time for him to leave the national team with a bang!

Northern Ireland

Apart from Steven Davis, other players in the squad have had average seasons with their respective clubs. But when it comes to national duty, they somehow produce their best performances.

Kyle Lafferty, for example, is a known journeyman in world football. Currently with Championship club Birmingham City, the lanky striker was the reason why Northern Ireland is in the tournament for the first time.

He scored seven goals to help them finish top in the qualifiers. Steven Davis, who impressed for Southampton, will be the creative force in midfield together with Stuart Dallas. Team coach Michael O'Neill loves to rotate his player formations but for this tournament, I think he will go for 3-5-2.

Lafferty is usually the lone man up front, but this time he might be partnered with Will Grigg, who scored 25 goals to help Wigan Athletic earn automatic promotion to the English Championship. Expect the 'Will Grigg's on fire, your defence is terrified' chant to resonate around the stadiums too.

Craig Cathcart, Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley have a lot of Premier League experience and they will be tasked to marshal the defence. It will be a tough group but the players have strength and Lefferty said other teams should be wary of their unity. We shall see.


Any national team would love to have Robert Lewandowski in their squad, and Poland is blessed to have such a talent. Many would deem Poland as a one-man team but they are actually pretty well-balanced.

Yes, Lewandowski is their main goal-getter but he cannot do it alone. Lukasz Pisczek, Jakun Blaszcnykowski, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Kamil Grosicki and Arkadiusz Milik are key players in this strong Polish side.

Coach Adam Nawalka will rely on his favourite 4-4-2 formation and he wouldn't want to disrupt that. Grosicki and Blaszcnykowski will probe from the wings but I expect Piotr Zielinski to cause some damage too.

Capable of playing as a box-to-box midfielder or playmaker, the 22-year-old might start or be the super sub for this side. Krychowiak, who had an impressive season with Sevilla, will be the man tasked to shield the defence and also spray passes for the forwards and wingers.

In the goalkeeping department, they have brilliant shot stoppers, who can unfortunately let their guard down at times. I expect Wojciech Szczesny to be the first-choice goalie and it's time for him to step up his game.

This is an exciting squad and I expect them to finish second behind Germany. For commentators, this side is going to be quite a mouthful!


One look at Mykhailo Fomenko's eyes and you wouldn't want to mess with him.

The current Ukrainian side are very solid defensively and look good on the break, where Andrei Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka can use their pace and technical ability, all thanks to Fomenko.

Teams will have to be wary of those two but attackers from other teams will have to find a way to breach a strong defence. Yevhen Khacheridi, Oleksandr Kucher, Yaroslav Rakytskiy and Vyacheslav Shevchuk can be really strong when in form and teams will struggle against them.

Even if they are breached, Andriy Pyatov is capable of frustrating players with his quick reflexes and great anticipation. The back four can also rely on the services of Taras Stepanenko, the defensive midfielder in this side.

In attack, many expect Roman Zozulya to be the lone man up front but I think Yevhen Seleznyov will be partnering him. Two big players in the box would be great as Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko are great crossers of the ball.

They might be the spoilers in this group but Poland and Germany have better squad depth. It will be tough but Formenko will surely rally his side to prove their doubters wrong.

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