Another Home Nation that qualified automatically for the finals, Northern Ireland have had an incredible journey under Michael O'Neill, finishing top of Qualifying Group F. It is the start of a new chapter for Northern Ireland who at times have essentially been the whipping boys for most international sides. That's why O'Neill deserves so much credit, he hasn't changed the personnel of the team massively but he has changed the mentality which is 50% of the battle. Northern Ireland may struggle with the other 50% however, which comes down to the actual footballing ability of the players, they simply do not match up to Poland in this regard.
Poland have also started to be taken a lot more seriously these days but not by using the same technique as Northern Ireland. Rather than being a really close knit team, Poland have a star man in the shape of Robert Lewandowski and he creates a fear factor that Poland can use to their benefit in this tournament. Having said that they don't just depend on Lewandowski's goals, Kamil Grosicki and Milik have been in fantastic form for their clubs and country recently too in the friendlies played since they qualified, they're basically a brilliant attacking team, using lots of pace on the wings and in the full back positions to put it on a plate for their 3 danger men.
Northern Ireland work very well as a team and you can see that the togetherness is there, they try to use skilful fast wingers when attacking and then creating 2 banks of 4 to defend, they will be difficult to break down for Poland, they do have 7 goals in 9 games striker Kyle Lafferty at their disposal too who will be eager to impress in order to get a move away from his club Norwich where he can't get a game. Will Lafferty's lack of real playing time at club level have any effect on Northern Ireland's chances? It didn't seem to do so in qualifying but the finals are a different kettle of fish.
Northern Ireland have never qualified for a European Championship Finals and Poland have never managed to get out of the Group Stages, both will want to write fresh history.
Sorry Northern Ireland fans but we think Poland will win this and win it convincingly. We all want the fairy tale to continue but the Poles have Lewandowski and Milik up front who scored 19 goals and had 7 assists combined, Northern Ireland will struggle to cope with such fire power and we can't see Kyle Lafferty turning on the style either.
It seems an obvious bet but Robert Lewandowski will score goals in this tournament and what better team to start his haul than against Northern Ireland? With the pace that Poland have on the wings and potent strike force, Lewy will get chances and he doesn't miss many.
The Northern Irish are going to run their socks off, but the Poles should have too much quality for them, they're experienced internationals now and even beat world champions Germany 2-0 in the qualifiers. The Poles will defend professionally and they can definitely score goals as they scored 9 more than the Germans too!
Northern Ireland on the other hand only mustered 16 goals in 10 games compared with the Poles 33, that's why we don't think they will carry a considerable goal scoring threat.
We think Lewandowski will score in both halves to be a decent bet, and that Northern Ireland will probably not score, that only leaves the option that Poland will be winning at half-time and full-time. Since finishing qualifying, Poland have scored 13 goals in 4 games, with Northern Ireland scoring 3 in 3.
This actually was a close call between Lewandowski, Grosicki and Milik but you can't discount the big man, he is a beast in the box and having broken a record this season when he came on at half-time for Bayern against Wolfsburg and scored 5 goals in 9 minutes, I can't see how it could be anybody else that scores the opening goal of this match.
If you're looking for a fun bet based on some knowledge of both teams that could happen given the right opportunity, Oliver Norwood to score a free kick is a cracking shout. The former Manchester United player scores free kicks for fun for current club Reading. If Northern Ireland set it up for him in just the right place he could nick them a goal and make it a long day for the Polish.