Here is a quick look at Group C at this summer’s European Championships, which includes the current World Champions and another home nation.
Germany are second favourites going into Euro 2016, despite missing players such as Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus through injury. They can still call on players with the quality of Bayern Munich-bound defender Mats Hummels, World Cup Golden Boot winner Thomas Muller and Arsenal assists king Mesut Ozil.
However, recent form will be of concern for Die Nationalmannschaft, with a record of three defeats in the last five including a shock 3-1 home defeat to Slovakia and another home reverse to England having led 2-0 in Berlin.
Germany’s route to Euro 2016 wasn’t without bumps in the road. Defeats to Poland and Ireland, who they didn’t beat at all, meant they had to wait until the second to last game before they were guaranteed to be in France this summer to go with the several hiccups suffered since winning the World Cup in 2014 showing that they are now far from invincible.
They will be buoyed by a recent European record that saw them into the semi-finals four years ago before defeat to Italy, while in 2008 they made the final, losing to Spain as they began their spell of dominance. They haven’t been out of a major tournament at the group stages since Euro 2004.
Despite being the lowest ranked side in Group C at 27th, Poland go into the Euros as many observers’ dark horses for the tournament having already proved that the current crop of players can mix it with the best of international football at their third European Championships in a row.
In Robert Lewandowski, they have arguably the most lethal striker in European football with the Bayern Munich hitman scoring over 30 goals in the Bundesliga this season, while Arkadiusz Milik has also been in good form for Ajax with 21 goals in 31 league games this season. The Poles can also call on Sevilla’s midfield general Grzegorsz Krychowiak, the vastly experienced Jakub Blaszczykowski and Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. The spread of Polish players across the top European leagues is such that only nine of the 23 man squad play club football in Poland, with all three goalkeepers (Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea) and Artur Boruc (Bournemouth) playing in the Premier League.
Euro 2016 is the first tournament Poland have qualified for since Euro 2008 (Co-hosted Euro 2012), where they went out in the group stages, losing 2-0 to Germany in the process. At the 2006 World Cup they also drew Germany at the group stages, narrowly losing 1-0 in Dortmund on that occasion.
Having already proven in qualifying that they’re a force in European football, Poland will be looking to rid themselves of their Germany curse in order to realise their potential.
Northern Ireland come into the tournament as rank outsiders despite a record run of 12 games undefeated stretching back to their only defeat of qualifying in Romania and are at a record high ranking of 25 as a result of their hot form.
The Boys in Green are going to their first major tournament since the 1982 World Cup in Spain and the smallest nation in the championships are looking to make history. Despite their population being just over 1m, Northern Ireland will be hoping to leave France famous for more than a terrace chant about their Wigan Athletic striker Will Grigg after easing through the qualification process, shocking many observers along the way.
They first came to the attention of Europe when they won away in Greece early in qualifying before following that up with another win in Hungary to take charge of their qualifying group, as favourites Greece floundered by losing at home to the Faroe Islands.
Northern Ireland comfortably qualified via a draw at home to Romania and a thumping win over Greece to begin this fairytale. Progression from the group stages against much more fancied nations is likely to be considered a bonus as while they can count Steven Davis of Southampton and Gareth McAuley of West Brom among their ranks, they also have players from the lower reaches of the Football League – Luke McCullough having just been relegated to League Two with Doncaster Rovers.
Like Poland, Ukraine were also co-hosts of the last European championships in 2012 and will also be expecting to progress beyond the group stages. They needed a play-off against Slovenia in order to get to France, but despite that, they are the second highest ranked team in Group C at 19th.
While the days of Andrei Shevchenko are now well and truly over, Ukraine are still an attacking force and in Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko of Dynamo Kiev and Sevilla respectively they have two men regularly linked with Europe’s top clubs – the two also caused England problems during 2014 World Cup qualification, with Yarmolenko scoring at Wembley in a 2-2 draw.
In qualifying, Ukraine only lost three times – both matches against Spain with a home defeat to fellow qualifiers Slovakia as they came third in Qualifying Group C, eight points clear of fourth placed Belarus.
It’s a largely domestic-based squad that manager Mykhaylko Fomenko has taken to France, with only Konoplyanka, Anatoly Tymoschuk (Kairat Almaty), Denis Boyko (Besiktas), and Oleksandar Zinchenko (FC UFA) playing their football abroad. 11 Shakthar Donetsk players are in the 23, with a further five from Dynamo Kiev.
Should Ukraine progress from Group C, it would be the first time the country has progressed from the group stages of a major football tournament since the break-up of the Soviet Union in and the formation of their national team in 1991.