Euro 2016: Matchday 2 in Group C

Cormac O'DonnellEuropean Championship0 Comments

Northern Ireland lit up day 2 in Group C against Ukraine with their first ever victory in the European Championships, whilst Poland were involved in a bore draw with world champions Germany.

Gareth McCauley celebrates after breaking the deadlock.

Gareth McCauley celebrates after breaking the deadlock. Courtesy: theguardian.com

Ukraine 0-2 Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland would have felt right at home in Lyon as rain and hail pelted the Stade des Lumières. A more foreign feeling for the Irish was leading a game at a major championships. A deep free-kick from Oliver Norwood was met squarely by Gareth McCauley after poor defensive cover left the Ukranian goalkeeper stranded.

Soon after, the players were forced off the field of play by referee Pavel Kralovec due to an intense hail storm. The Irish players appeared visibly frustrated as the stoppage robbed them of vital momentum, not that Ukraine would be able to capitalize after the break.

Ukraine attempted a late charge but their hopes were buried just before full time when Niall McGinn slotted home the parried attempt of teammate Stuart Dallas. A huge final clash with Germany awaits Northern Ireland whilst the 0-0 draw of Germany and Poland confirmed Ukraine’s exit from the competition.

Northern Ireland Verdict: 7/10 (⇑4)

There’s no competition on the ‘most improved’ award from matchday 1. Manager Michael O’Neill responded to his team’s embarrassing showing against Poland with five changes, including main man Kyle Lafferty. A much sharper, braver performance earned Northern Ireland a thoroughly deserved three points.

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Ukraine Verdict: 5/10 (⇓1.5)

Both teams were in similar positions in their first game; underdogs holding out for a point against a superior side. This game was an opportunity to let loose for both teams, an opportunity Ukraine failed to grasp. The favourites Ukraine were unable to match the passion and ferocity of the underdogs and slumped out of the competition without a goal, without a point.

A tight affair generated little excitement in Paris.

A tight affair generated little excitement in Paris. Courtesy: worldsoccer.com

Germany 0-0 Poland

A series of worrying flaws became apparent as the world champions faced off against a much more organised, hard-working Polish side. Sluggish play from Germany was matched with loose passing play in a game that looked destined for a goalless draw straight from the kick-off.

Any attempt to break Poland’s defensive line was obstructed by Germany’s lack of a traditional striker, with Mario Goetze clearly struggling for confidence up front. Poland on the other hand, are blessed with one of the best strikers in world football in Robert Lewandowski.

It was Poland’s second-in-command, Milik, who was presented with the game’s, if not the tournament’s, best chance when Kamil Grosicki’s fizzed a cross into the near post. Milik appeared caught in two minds as he attempted a diving header when only a simple tap-in was needed. In the end both teams will be relatively pleased with the point.

Germany Verdict: 6.5/10 (⇓1.5)

Poland showed that, when met with a well-organised side, Germany will struggle to score. Poland are a good side, but they are a distance from teams of Germany’s caliber. If Germany continue to play like this, better teams will not only close them out, but also trouble them at the back.

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Poland Verdict: 7/10 (-)

A similar performance to their first game, this time against much better opponents. Poland’s organization and work ethic allowed them to match a sloppy German side. A strong performance against the struggling Ukraine will set Lewandowski’s men up for a solid run at the knockouts.

How Things Stand

  Played Goal Difference Points
Germany 2 +2 4
Poland 2 +1 4
Northern Ireland 2 +1 3
Ukraine 2 -4

A point will be enough to see both Germany and Poland qualify automatically whilst goal difference will likely decide who secures top-spot. Northern Ireland will likely need to secure an unbelievable victory over Germany to secure automatic qualification however, it is possible that Northern Ireland have already secured a third-placed qualification. Ukraine have the illustrious honour of being the first team eliminated from Euro 2016.

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