Group C: Germany, Poland, Ukraine and Northern Ireland
The action in the group promises to be more about grit and hard-work than about the beautiful game being played at its free-flowing best.
While Germany is the overwhelming favourite, the opposition teams will take courage from the fact that the die mannschaft was beaten by the Republic of Ireland in the qualifiers and Slovakia in a friendly.
Where is the speed?
Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan would be missing the tournament due to injuries and this could prove a vital loss for Germany, which will be eyeing to secure a EURO trophy to go along with the World Cup.
Germany, under coach Joachim Loew, has always relied on fast counter-attacks to score its goals and Reus’ absence might mean Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze and Julian Draxler will all start behind Thomas Muller, the player to watch out for. Apart from lacking in pace, all three have a tendency to cut inwards and play in the centre which might open up space for the opposition to exploit.
It would be interesting to see if Loew prefers to start Andre Schurrle, the World Cup’s super-sub and a player who would offer more width, by sacrificing Gotze or Draxler. Another option will be to play a 4-3-3 formation with Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and one of Joshua Kimmich or Julian Weigl. Both Kimmich and Weigl have had outstanding seasons for their respective clubs and will inject some much needed pace.
Germany has failed to fill the void left by Philipp Lahm and Low will have to take a decision between the versatile Emre Can and the attack-minded Shkodram Mustafi.
Not just Lewandowski
This is one side that likes to play with two strikers up front, with one of them being Robert Lewandowski, who has had yet another stellar goal-scoring season for Bayern Munich. But the Polish side isn’t all about Lewa or his partner Arkadiusz Milik. The hard working midfield spearheaded by Grzegorz Krychowiak along with a defence that includes Torino’s Kamil Glik and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is bound to cause any team problems.
The absence of winger Pawel Wszolek and left-back Maciej Rybus due to injuries might hamper the team’s ability to supply the goal-hungry forward line though.
O’ Neil’s fighters
The team is proof that sheer grit and hard work can win you football matches. It topped its qualifying group ahead of Romania and the five-man midfield which includes the likes of Steven Davis and Stuart Dallas, is difficult to break down. The team is all about wearing the opposition down with its hard-pressing tactics.
The defence is also a strong unit with the likes Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Chris Baird. Manager Michael O’Neill’s side does lack in depth though and an injury to one of team’s mainstays would expose a set of inexperienced players.
Wanted – Striker
The side relies heavily on counter-attacking and its star wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka will hold all the keys to its hopes of passing the Group stage. The defence is also an organised unit and can be a menace in the opposition half during set pieces.
The problem with Ukraine is the lack of a high quality striker. Oh how it would be wishing for another Andriy Shevchenko! Unfortunately, the closest it has to the AC Milan legend is Roman Zozulya, who is still facing a domestic ban for attacking a referee.
Verdict/Prediction: Germany has enough quality to pass the hurdles. The battle for the other slot will be tough though. On paper, Poland looks a better balanced side, but watch out for the Northern Ireland hardiness.
Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Bernd Leno.
Defenders: Jerome Boateng, Emre Can, Jonas Hector, Benedikt Howedes, Mats Hummels, Shkodran Mustafi and Antonio Rudiger.
Midfielders: Julian Draxler, Sami Khedira, Joshua Kimmich, Toni Kroos, Thomas Miller, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski, Leroy Sane, Andre Schurrle, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Julian Weigl.
Forwards: Mario Gomez and Mario Gotze.
Goalkeepers: Alan Mannus, Michael McGovern and Roy Carroll.
Defenders: Craig Cathcart, Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley, Luke McCullough, Conor McLaughlin, Lee Hodson, Aaron Hughes, Patrick McNair and Chris Baird.
Midfielders: Steven Davis, Oliver Norwood, Corry Evans, Shane Ferguson, Stuart Dallas, Niall McGinn and Jamie Ward.
Forwards: Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington, Josh Magennis and Will Grigg.
Goalkeepers: Lukasz Fabianski, Wojciech Szczesny and Artur Boruc.
Defenders: Thiago Cionek, Kamil Glik, Artur Jedrzejczyk, Michal Pazdan, Lukasz Piszczek, Bartosz Salamon and Jakub Wawrzyniak.
Midfielders: Jakub Blaszczykowski, Kamil Grosicki, Tomasz Jodlowiec, Bartosz Kapustka, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Karol Linetty, Krzysztof Maczynski, Slawomir Peszko, Filip Starzynski and Piotr Zielinski.
Forwards: Arkadiusz Milik, Robert Lewandowski and Mariusz Stepinski.
Goalkeepers: Andriy Pyatov, Denys Boyko and Mykyta Shevchenko.
Defenders: Evhen Khacheridi, Bohdan Butko, Artem Fedetskyi, Oleksandr Karavaev, Oleksandr Kucher, Yaroslav Rakytskyi and Vyacheslav Shevchuk.
Midfielders: Serhiy Rybalka, Denys Garmash, Serhiy Sydorchuk, Andriy Yarmolenko, Evhen Konoplyanka, Ruslan Rotan, Taras Stepanenko, Viktor Kovalenko, Anatolyi Tumoschuk and Oleksandr Zinchenko.
Forwards: Roman Zozylya, Pylyp Budkivskyi and Evhen Seleznyov.