14.00 England v Wales (Group B)
This match has all the trappings of a grand derby. There is an air of familiarity for many of the players as the vast majority of them ply their trade in England; some, too, are teammates. Not today, however. Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey have been busy telling the English players that they wouldn’t make it on the French team. The English players seem to have kept their own counsel and will likely look to make their point on the pitch.
Round 1 saw Wales secure a confidence-building win against Slovakia. There is a real belief and togetherness about this squad and they will be raring to take on their larger neighbor. England’s first match saw a different outcome as they conceded a very late, very soft equalizer to a poor Russia side and are in desperate need of a win to both help secure qualification from the group and to introduce a greater measure of belief amongst the players.
On paper, England have the better squad but the aforementioned familiarity of the players might largely negate this advantage. If it is the case that they are evenly matched, it could be that Gareth Bale’s stellar talent might prove to be the game changer. BoyleSports, amongst others, have Wales to win at an extremely generous 13/2. 888Sport have the draw at 17/5. Basically, everything bar an England win looks tempting price-wise.
17.00 Ukraine v Northern Ireland (Group C)
With both teams having lost their opening games, it really is make-or-break time for Ukraine and Northern Ireland. Both results were expected by bookies and punters alike given the opposition faced in round 1 and one imagines that the respective managers were thinking broadly similarly. If either team is to qualify in 3rd place, then this is the match that they must win.
Ukraine had a tough time of things against Germany and, as you would expect, the world champions bossed the game from beginning to end. There is nothing unusual about that but Ukraine looked overly conservative and unless they make better use of their electric wingers, they won’t pose much danger in this match either.
Since last they played, the Northern Ireland camp has experienced catastrophe after one of their travelling supporters died in tragic circumstances. Following their loss to Poland, the players spoke of their need to play with more bravery and intent in their upcoming games. This professional impulse coupled with a desire to honour the memory of their fallen countryman might be just what they need to gain all three points.
The bookies make Ukraine as heavy favourites but the variables mentioned above make the price of 13/2 from StanJames for a Northern Ireland well worth a thought.
20.00 Germany v Poland (Group C)
The two heavyweights of the group face off with the winner likely to finish top of the pile. Both won their opening game although Germany looked the more accomplished and purposeful of the two. Poland made heavy work of their win against Northern Ireland but they suggested that they could have upped the game should they have needed to. They’ll certainly need to do so in this tie.
The Germans seemed far more composed than gloomy pre-tournament expectations would have you believe. Toni Kroos ran the game with consummate ease from midfield and when he is allowed to do that, the opposing team stands little chance. It’s hardly plausible that Poland will stand off Germany to the same extent that Ukraine did and Kroos will have to work that much harder.
Poland showed those who were bothered to care that theirs is not a one man team. Whilst most are familiar with Robert Lewandowski, his partner in crime, Arkadiusz Milik, announced himself on the tournament stage with an excellent performance in round 1, capped by scoring the winning goal. He will have noted with interest the less than brilliant defensive performance of Mustafi in the German backline and it’s entirely possible that Poland will score in this match.
Even if Germany persist in playing Mario Gotze as their false nine/lead man, they should still be able to produce more goal-scoring chances than their Polish counterparts and as such, will probably win a tight game. As you would expect, Germany are favourites and Ladbrokes have a price of 6/10 for them to get all three points.