The second international tournament out of 3 this summer will begin in France, which is EURO 2016. This tournament generally is considered one of the best tournaments around the world, on par with the World Cup in the eyes of many, as it has most of the top teams in the world.
Croatia take on Turkey which is a battle of the fiercest rivals in Europe. This game promises to be a fiesty encounter as both teams know that a victory will give them one foot in the door to the 2nd round considering this is the group of death and every win is valuable.
The Turkish come into this encounter in good form losing just 1 game since November 2014 against England in a recent friendly. Under the tutelage of Fatih Terim, the team believe that they can do miracles and that stretch of form shows exactly why and how. The Turkish will rely a lot on team work and the skill of few players Calhangolu, Yilmaz, Topal and Sahin who have been around for a decent while in the team. The Turkish however, tend to get into trouble in competitive fixtures on the bookings side. In their last 4 competitive fixtures, they have picked up at least 2 cards – Iceland (1 yellow, 1 red), Czech Republic (2 yellows), Holland (5 yellows).
The Croatians come into this tournament with some greatly talented players who are now playing in some of the top clubs of the world including Mandzukic, Perisic, Rakitic, Modric to name a few. Their form is decent, undefeated in their last 7 encounters with 6 wins and 1 draw. Their performances on the pitch have been good but consistency is what they lacked until recently under manager Ante Cacic. Discipline is still a worry among the Croatians in the last few competitive fixtures, where they performance have been as follows – Malta (2 yellows), Bulgaria (1 yellow, 1 red), Norway (3 yellows), Azerbaijan (3 yellows), Italy (4 yellows, 1 red).
When we even look at the last 3 encounters between the 2 teams, they tend to get very heated up.
15 Nov 2011: Croatia 0 – 0 Turkey (7 yellows)
11 Nov 2011: Turkey 0 – 3 Croatia (7 yellows)
20 Jun 2008: Croatia 1 – 1 Turkey* (4 yellows)
The referee for this encounter is Jonas Eriksson from Sweden, who has shown to brandish a lot of cards in various high profile encounters.
Europa League Final: Liverpool v Sevilla (8 yellows)
Champions League QF: Juventus v Bayern (12 yellows)
Club World Cup: Sanfrecce Hiroshima v River Plate (6 yellows)
Champions League Group: Bayern v Olympiakos (2 yellows, 1 red)
Euro 2016 Qualifying: Ukraine v Slovenia (5 yellows)
Champions League Group: PSV v Wolfsburg (6 yellows)
This game looks ripe for some heated action and some unwarranted tackles by 2 teams who don’t like each other and want to beat each other. You also have a referee who will look to take out his card in opportune moments. I am backing over 4.5 cards to be brandished in this game.
Poland come into this encounter against Northern Ireland struggling for form, failing to win any of their friendly encounters prior to the Euros. They will have to rely a lot on the experience of their talented group of individuals including the likes of Lewandowski, Blaszczykowski, Milik, Pisczeck, Grosicki who will be aiming to make a major impact on this team to progress to the next round. All of them have had a good season in their respective teams, which will add confidence to them coming into this encounter. Poland need that form to come to the fore in a tournament where they have played 6 games and failed to win any (3 draws and 3 losses). They were the top scorers in qualifying with 33 goals and even beat Germany, which will give them faith that they can do the job on the Northern Irishman.
Northern Ireland have done well to progress to this stage of the tournament, participating in the main draw proper for their first time. They focussed a lot on team work and building a strong defensive ethic, that has seen them qualify in what honestly was the weakest qualifying group around. They will rely a lot on Cathcart, McAuley and Evans to keep it tight at the back, but they haven’t been tested as their friendlies that they have played in the lead-up to the tournament have been against lowly sides. They haven’t face an opposition of this quality since they played Chile and Uruguay in friendlies way back in June 2014, where they got beaten without finding the scoresheet at all.
The Polish team look to be extremely strong on paper and their performances will look to show on the stage of this big tournament, and I expect them to go out attacking against Northern Ireland from the word go. I back Poland to beat Northern Ireland in this first group game.
Germany come to this tournament, not in the World Cup Champions form that they had after winning the tournament 2 years ago and will start this game probably after Poland have taken an early lead ahead of them in the earlier fixture over Northern Ireland. Germany have struggled in 2016 beating Hungary by 2-0 and Italy 4-1, while losing 3-1 to Slovakia and 3-2 to England. That showcase the struggles that they have had defensively, conceding in 3 out of the 4 games played so far. When you go back to their games played in 2015, they played 9 games while conceding in 7 out of those (Clean sheets only against Gibraltar and Georgia). With a lot of injuries to the Germany back four and captain Philip Lahm retiring, I expect them to struggle in that area of the pitch and could see them conceding goals. Their scoring touch has been a bit shaky, and will rely a lot on Thomas Muller to do the scoring, with good support from Mario Gotze, Julian Draxler and Mesut Ozil to score or even provide him the service needed.
Ukraine have had a stellar 2015; winning all 4 of their friendlies played so far against Wales, Cyprus, Romania and Albania (3 out of 4 have made it to this tournament). They have found their scoring boots now and have netted in 7 out of their last 8 games played so far. They rely a lot on Winger Yarmolenko to do the scoring for them along with support from Konoplyanka and Zozulya. Ukraine have shown their ability to score against some good sides in their previous competitive fixtures and I think they would be able to find something in this game too. The team have shown that they can also be shipped for a lot of goals as was in their 3-4 victory against Romania over 10 days ago. The two meetings between the sides saw them concede 3 goals in both of them.
This game is expected to be an exciting one, while everyone things that Germany are going to struggle to score, my guess is they are waiting to explode in a big way, and that will look to happen tonight while Ukraine have shown that they can do it against the big boys as well. For those reasons, I am backing over 2.5 goals in this encounter.
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