The qualifiers brought two memorable encounters between Germany and Poland, with both teams collecting a win apiece, so there was much anticipation when they were drawn together for the finals. They come into it having won their opening matches, so a victory for either side will be enough to guarantee a place in the next round, and in all likelihood top the group.
Poland were the dominant force throughout against Northern Ireland and got the result they deserved, but they will be slightly disappointed at their inability to score more than just the single goal. Robert Lewandowski was well marshalled, but Arkadiusz Milik stepped up to the mark by grabbing the winner to cap an all-action performance.
Given the fact that he plays his football for the leading club in the Bundesliga, Germany will be all too aware of the threat that Lewandowski poses, so they will look to cut the supply line and mark him closely. On the whole, the world champions’ game-plan will be to control proceedings and wear Poland down, just as they did to Ukraine on Sunday.
It was far from a perfect display as their opponents certainly had chances to get on the scoresheet themselves, but as the game progressed Germany asserted a degree of authority, exhibiting some of the hallmarks of Spain’s victorious Euro 2012 campaign.
First of all there was the short, intricate play in the final third, and the absence of an out-and-out striker. The role of the furthest player forward was often shared between Thomas Muller and Mario Gotze, but some neat interplay coupled with the brilliant passing range of Toni Kroos – doing his best Andres Iniesta impression – helped secure a comfortable victory.
This is the first real test for the Polish backline, after they were given very little to do by a toothless Northern Ireland, but they will not fear Germany, especially because of the familiarity between the two sides. Joachim Low’s men will be the favourites, but it could be another tight affair in what has so far been a competition full of close matches.
For Northern Ireland it seems that their hopes of reaching the last 16 rest almost solely on picking up all three points against Ukraine. Several of the players have spoken out against the performance that saw them lose to Poland, where the rearguard action that materialised was not supplemented by attacking fluency.
Whenever they received the ball possession was lost within moments and in truth they seemed overcome by the magnitude of the occasion. A little more composure is what is needed against Ukraine, who will also feel that this is a game that they cannot afford to drop points in, and have more positives to take from their first Euro 2016 outing.
While they may have faded in the second period, before half-time they looked very capable of scoring and only a combination of good goalkeeping and last-ditch defending kept them out. Wingers Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko will hope to be more involved, and if they are, they may just have too much for Northern Ireland.