Sunday’s Euro 2016 sees Group C and D start in earnest, as World Champions Germany kick-off their quest for European glory.
However, the first game of the day comes from Group D, as Turkey and Croatia clash at the Parc de Princes in Paris.
Turkey qualified for Euro 2016 by being the best third-place team in qualifying, after finishing behind Iceland and Czech Republic in qualification. Their recent form has been good, as Fatih Terim’s side have lost just once in their last 16 international outings and have won four out of their last five games.
Boss Terim has attempted to refresh his squad in recent months and lower the average age of his squad. Recent results suggest that this strategy has proven relatively successful.
Croatia finished second behind Italy in qualification and are regarded as a team that could make a big impact this summer. Ante Cacic’s side have a good mixture of young and more experienced players in their squad.
Seasoned midfielders like Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic of Real Madrid and Barcelona supply the experience in midfield, while highly-rated youngster Mateo Kovacic provides the youthful exuberance.
These two teams have history in this competition. They met in Euro 2008, when Turkey recorded a penalty kick win in the quarter-finals. Croatia gained revenge in qualifying for Euro 2012 though by defeating the Turkish 3-0 on aggregate in a play-off.
The early game in Group C sees Poland face European Championship debutants Northern Ireland in Nice.
Poland finished second in their qualification group to neighbours Germany, but top the scoring charts in qualifying with a tally of 33 goals scored. Striker Robert Lewandowski was also the top scorer in qualification with 13 goals.
Northern Ireland topped their group qualifying to make it to their first ever European Championships. Michael O’Neill’s side suffered just one defeat in qualifying and striker Kyle Lafferty will be looking to add to seven goals in the finals.
The main event in this group has to be the entrance of world champions Germany. Joachim Low’s side kick-off their Euro 2016 campaign with a clash against Ukraine in Lille.
For once Germany enters a major tournament with slight doubts over their trophy winning credentials. Die Mannschaft may have won the World Cup in 2014, but several key players retired after that triumph and their fortunes have been decidedly mixed since that victory.
Low’s side topped their group in qualifying, but endured a more different campaign than usual and only beat second-place Poland to top spot by one point. Mixed performances in recent friendlies have also added to those doubts.
However, the Germans seem to be able to move up a gear when it comes to tournament football and this year’s event is unlikely to be any different.
Ukraine needed a play-off win against Slovenia to make it to Euro 2016, after they finished third in their group behind Slovakia and Spain.
Their defensive record of just four goals conceded was a positive, but they have struggled to score goals and lack a top centre forward. Mykhaylo Fomenko’s teams main attacking threat will be provided by highly-rated wingers Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko.
Despite supposed weaknesses, Germany will be highly-confident of winning their opening clash and it is worth noting that Germany have not lost a competitive game against Ukraine, winning twice and recording two draws.