17.00 BST Northern Ireland v Germany (Group C)
Northern Ireland played uncommonly well in round 2 and claimed a deserved three points in their victory over Ukraine. Manager, Michael O’Neill, made five changes to his starting eleven and though this may have appeared a rash act, it paid dividends in the end and has given them a fighting chance of making it through to the next round.
Up until the match between France and Switzerland, the Germany v Poland game had been the only scoreless draw. That game demonstrated yet again that the reigning world champions are not the force of recent years. Their lack of an outright striker is a big issue for them as teams can focus on defending space and holding their lines rather than worrying themselves with a mobile target man constantly looking to turn them.
No-one will be shocked to learn that Germany are heavy favourites here but it’s worth considering a few points – in qualifying, Germany were beaten by Poland and the Republic of Ireland and held to a draw by Scotland. It’s the latter two results that are perhaps most pertinent. Northern Ireland are not dissimilar in terms of quality to their Celtic cousins and will have drawn encouragement from those performances.
Interestingly, the scenario exists whereby Germany could come third in the group, should they be beaten by Northern Ireland and also should Poland win. Is it impossible? No. Is it unlikely? Yes. Still, the widely quoted price of 3/10 for a German win hardly excites whereas 51/10 from MarathonBet for the draw and 14/1 from Bet365 for A Northern Ireland win do.
17.00 BST Ukraine v Poland (Group C)
Things have not gone well for Ukraine – two games, two losses, no points. They are as good as gone but have one last chance to salvage some pride as they take on their neighbours and co-hosts of the Euros four years ago, Poland. There’s little that stirs the blood of a player quite like a local derby and this could be a feisty affair. They might be down but Ukraine aren’t done swinging.
Poland came into this tournament boasting one of Europe’s elite strikers in the shape of Robert Lewandowski but the big man has failed to impress with his forward partner, Arkadiusz Milik, outshining him thus far. However, it is surely just a matter of time before he finds both his range and the back of the net.
This match has the potential to be explosive given the tension between the two sides. Poland have far more to lose in terms of suspensions and injuries and, having already secured qualification from the group, may decide to rest some of their key players. Regardless, Ukraine will be gunning for them and if Poland are meek in the face of this threat, there’s every chance they could get beaten. There’s nothing more dangerous than a team with nothing to lose and Poland will have their credentials seriously tested. They are favourites at about evens but a draw at 5/2 from BetFred doesn’t sound too unlikely.
20.00 BST Croatia v Spain (Group D)
Croatia were minutes from taking six points from their two opening games but conspired to concede two late goals in their match against Czech Republic. It should be noted that play was held up for some time as a section of Croatian fans began to throw flares onto the pitch, compelling Ivan Rakotic and others to plead with them to stop. Croatia clearly lost their concentration and the Czech’s were able to capitalize.
In what is effectively a battle for first place, they will hope that those scenes are not repeated in this game as they will need to concentrate solely on the reigning European champions from beginning to end. Spain seemed to go up a couple of gears in their last match against Turkey. They won 3-0 with Alvaro Morata scoring two goals in a performance that will give him great confidence. Their defense, too, was excellent; ‘keeper David de Gea hadn’t a save to make.
Spain, having generally been considered to be one of the better teams coming into this tournament, have now been installed by most bookmakers as favourites to win outright. Given the respective problems being faced by France and Germany, this makes some sense. However, late loss of concentration aside, Croatia will be the toughest team Spain have faced by far and victory is not assured.
This is a difficult match to call, at least in the opinion of this column. With Iniesta running the show, Spain look incredibly assured but Croatia can also boast of a midfield commander-in-chief in the guise of Luka Modric. The chance of seeing their battle for supremacy alone makes this a ‘must watch’ match. Spain are heavy favourites but, once more, this column will plump for the draw. The best price for that result comes by way of MarathonBet at 28/13.
20.00 BST Czech Republic v Turkey (Group D)
In their match against Craotia, the Czech Republic managed to grab a result from the jaws of defeat courtesy of a penalty in the 89th minute. They were two goals down and began the fight back in the 76th minute by way of the wonderfully cultured boot of Tomas Rosicky. The diminutive playmaker used the outside of his foot to float a perfect cross into the box whereupon the head of Milan Škoda drove it home.
Sadly for the Czech Republic and the tournament as a whole, Rosicky picked up an injury and is no longer available for selection. It is a sad way for the curtain to come down on the international career of such a incredibly talented player.
Turkey appear to be locked in battle with Portugal and Austria to see who can be the most disappointing team of the tournament. Big things were expected from Arda Turan and his men but they have singularly failed to deliver anything of note. There is no shame in being beaten by Spain, of course, but it was the manner of the defeat (no shots on goal, for one) that rankled. The fans are not happy and at one point roundly booed Turan, the captain having given them a ‘thumbs-up’ in a less than sincere fashion.
Having watched both these teams play, it’s arguable that Turkey have the better team on paper but in terms of spirit and endeavor, Czech Republic are some distance ahead. Win this and they are as good as guaranteed a spot in the knock-out stages. The loss of Rosicky is a big blow but Czech look like they’re willing to give it more than their opponents. The bookies have them as favourites and the best price on the market is from PaddyPower at 31/20.