Since winning the World Cup in 2014, Germany have not entirely convinced, as a handful of new faces mixed in with some of the older ones laboured a little through qualifying, but they have long been renowned as a team that excels when it really matters. As a result, few expect them to slip up when they face Ukraine as their bid to win the European Championship for the first time in 20 years begins.
They have been placed in a section from which they should comfortably advance, although top spot does not seem an absolute guarantee as Poland carry considerable menace. The two sides met on the road to these finals and gained a win apiece, so their meeting on match day two is the most enticing prospect that Group C has to offer.
Per Mertesacker, Miroslav Klose and outstanding captain Philipp Lahm are among those no longer around for Germany following their triumph in Brazil, but with the likes of Toni Kroos and perennial tournament goal-poacher Thomas Muller among others they are still very much among the favourites to win it.
Ukraine will provide them with a test, especially in wide areas as Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko are both dynamic danger men who will not fear their surroundings. Indeed, they may relish the chance of getting at a defence that did not always look altogether secure during qualifying.
While Germany are backed to open their account with a victory this one may just prove to be the kind of tight affair that is settled by a moment of individual brilliance. The experience of Joachim Low and his players will count for a lot, even with the inevitable pressure that comes with being the side that every other team will want to overcome.
As far as Poland are concerned, most of the attention will inevitably be on star striker Robert Lewandowski, who broke some Bundesliga records in helping Bayern Munich to another title success. He was the leading scorer overall in qualifying, but unlike when they co-hosted the competition four years ago the side has an array of quality individuals, such as Sevilla midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak.
It will be interesting to see how far the Poles can get as they are a team that nobody will be totally confident of facing. The knockout stages are a must, but on the other hand it would be a magnificent achievement for opening opponents Northern Ireland, who out of the 24 teams in France are among the biggest outsiders.
There is no shortage of confidence in the ranks as they head into this match, however, as manager Michael O’Neill has led them through a 12-match unbeaten run which extends from their fine qualifying campaign. Despite his lack of club football, Kyle Lafferty is their key striker, and is central to their hopes of being competitive in this group.
Skipper Steven Davis will also be integral to a side which is made out of several players from below the English top-flight, but as a collective unit Northern Ireland have proved a force in the international game. Sneak a point against Poland, and the optimism levels will increase immeasurably.
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