14.00 Turkey v Croatia (Group D)
Turkey recovered from a disastrous start to their qualifying campaign to book their place in this summers tournament courtesy of a 90th minute goal in their final group game against Iceland. Similar to some other teams in the Euros, their midfield is their standout strength.
Any team that can call upon Arda Turan, Hakan Calhanoglu, Inan and Ozan Tofu will be able to not only control the tempo but will carry a serious attacking threat. Just as well because there are concerns regarding their defense and slightly toothless forward line, so much so in the latter case that there is talk that one of their attacking midfielders may be used as a false nine.
Croatia, too, have a midfield littered with immense talent but crucially, they have a better defense and forward line than their opponents. Even though they are shorn of Liverpool star, Dejan Lovren, as a result of a spat with the manager, Ante Cacic, they can call on the experience of Vedran Corluka and Domagoj Vida at centre back.
Up front, Mario Mandzukic is an accomplished striker who counts some of Europe’s top clubs as previous homes but he only scored one in qualifying and seems to be on the wane.
Group D has arguably the greatest spread of talent in this tournament and one would expect all the matches to be fiercely contested, starting with this. Reports suggest that Cacic hasn’t settled on favoured team or formation yet and this could play into Turkish hands. On paper, Croatia are the stronger team but this managerial variable might scupper their natural talents. The draw might be worth considering. BetFred amongst others are offering a price of 23/10 for that outcome.
17.00 Poland v Northern Ireland (Group C)
Robert Lewandowski comes into this tournament having scored 42 goals in all competitions for Bayern Munich this season. The Pole is one of the best strikers in Europe and upon his shoulders rest the hopes and dreams of a nation. Or so one would suspect. Instead, Poland like to play with two strikers and Arkadiusz Milik has been described as a perfect foil for his senior strike partner.
This Poland team tend to emphasize possession over their previous counter attacking tendancies but one of their key cogs in this system, Sevilla’s Grzegorz Krychowiak, comes into this tournament injured and remains a concern.
Northern Ireland surprised everyone (and, one might suggest, themselves) by qualifying for this tournament, their first international competition since the 1980’s. They are rank outsiders to win the competition, let alone qualify from their group. They are a limited team in many regards but certainly they have no deficiency in character, pride and grim resolve.
They will be play tight, defensive football and will hope that in their odd forays up the field, they can fashion decent chances for their striker, Kyle Lafferty. Whatever happens to them, they will do their best and let no-one down.
That being said, Poland are expected to win this match without too much trouble. They will not countenance anything bar the three points but they will have to work hard to get it. BoyleSports and others have Poland to win at 3/4. The adventurous among you might like the price of 13/5 from the same crowd for the draw.
20.00 Germany v Ukraine (Group C)
There are concerns in some quarters that Germany come into this competition as World Cup winners in name only. Many of their old guard have retired and they no longer carry the air of invincibility that cloaked them for so long. In fact, a lot of people seriously doubt they will be a force beyond the semi-finals.
It’s worth noting that the bookies don’t concur and have them as second favourites to win outright. In this column’s opinion, writing them off as a genuine contender is dangerous as, changes notwithstanding, they are one of the best tournament teams in the world over the last ten years and know how to do the business even if they are not at their best.
A team containing the attacking wing talents of Andriy Yarmolenko and Yehven Konoplyanka might be expected to play a forward-thinking and front foot game but this is not the case for Ukraine. Theirs is defensive set-up which requires due diligence of their more maverick talents, arguably to the detriment of the team as a whole. The conservative nature of their game plan means that they don’t carry a constant threat and this can allow opposition teams to settle into a groove.
This game looks likely to settle into a pattern of outright German possession and Ukrainian holding. Overall, though, one would expect Germany to do the necessary and claim all three points. BetVictor and others have the best price there at 8/13.