Northern Ireland, the winners of qualification group F will be arriving at their first ever European Championships when they touch down in France for Euro 2016. Northern Ireland are mainly a team made up of players from the English Premier League and Championship and possess a reasonably deep squad of top level performers.
Their results from qualifying read won 6, drawn 3 and lost 1, the solitary loss coming away to group runners up Romania and although not a difficult group on paper, credit must still be shown to a team who were in 2012 ranked 96 in the world.
Northern Ireland's end game was getting to the Euro 2016 Championships and anything else must surely be a bonus. The draw has not been kind to Northern Ireland as Group C will see the minnows face the world cup holders Germany and the goal heavy Poland and you would have to say that 0 points from these two games is extremely likely.
In between these games they will face a Ukrainian outfit who are a much more experienced and have a far deeper squad filled with quality players, so bottom of the table looks very likely, but stranger things have happened. Expect Northern Ireland to give their all but ultimately fall short and go home empty handed once the group stages have been complete.
No recent appearances means nothing to go on here which puts the achievement of actually making it to France into context.
|12.06.16||17.00||Poland||1 - 0||Northern Ireland|
|12.06.16||20.00||Germany||2 - 0||Ukraine|
|16.06.16||17.00||Ukraine||0 - 2||Northern Ireland|
|16.06.16||20.00||Germany||0 - 0||Poland|
|21.06.16||17.00||Ukraine||0 - 1||Poland|
|21.06.16||17.00||Northern Ireland||0 - 1||Germany|
Group C will present an extremely difficult test for Northern Ireland. The games against Poland and Germany will surely yield no points as both sides are world class an will have far too much for this inexperienced side. The only hope of points will be in the game against Ukraine which again may prove too much and 0 points from 3 games looks highly likely.
Below is a list of the 4 teams drawn in Group C and their FIFA World Ranking, as you can see, Northern Ireland are ranked similar to Poland and Ukraine but in truth are streets behind in terms of quality and experience.
Although Northern Ireland scored 16 goals during qualifying, Kyle Lafferty scored 7 of those. Lafferty plies his trade at Birmingham City FC in the Football League Championship while on loan from Premier League club Norwich.
Heavily reliant on Lafferty's goals during qualification, this may not be enough for Northern Ireland in the group stages and the better quality defences will surely find him out.
The group stage is where this teams historic run will almost certainly end. Unfortunately being drawn against Germany and Poland has not helped Northern Ireland in the slightest and they will struggle in their only other game against Ukraine. A great bet here is that Northern Ireland will finish with 0 points at Euro 2016 and will exit the tournament at the group stages.
Northern Ireland have made history just by making it to Euro 2016 and it will be no disgrace if they finish bottom of a very competitive Group C. Germany and Poland will be expected to take 3 points from their games against this side and the vastly more experienced Ukraine will also be heavy favourites to win, so Northern Ireland could potentially finish pointless and with this in mind no other result than 4th looks likely.
Kyle Lafferty has an impressive record for his country and will be the man who Northern Ireland are relying on to score the crucial goals. Although not prolific for his club side, Lafferty seems to come alive when he wears the national colours and will be a hand full for any defence with his size and power. Against the better defences though he may struggle, but if Northern Ireland are to get any points in France, Lafferty will have to be firing on all cylinders.
A distinct lack of star players means Northern Ireland have to play to their strengths, fielding a slightly older generation of players than most of their competition, Northern Ireland rely on quick counter-attacking football with each member of the squad knowing their role and performing as a tight knit unit. You'll see plenty of heroic defending and dazzling wing play with pin point crosses aimed at Kyle Lafferty's head!