Mark O’Haire’s Euro Tips – Poland v N.Ireland
Northern Ireland defied odds of 33/1 to finish top of their qualifying pool and clinch a place at Euro 2016 – their first major tournament appearance since 1986.
Poland v Northern Ireland, Sunday 12th June 2016 17.00, BBC1
But Michael O’Neill’s men have been handed a devilishly difficult group in France. The Green & White Army open their account on Sunday evening in Nice with many punters’ dark horses Poland lining up in opposition.
The Polish have never won a European Championship match in two previous fruitless campaigns but the White Eagles arrive with an exciting and attack-minded side that concluded the qualifying campaign as top scorers with 33.
Robert Lewandowski notched 13 of those goals and the Bayern Munich hitman has struck a superb 34 goals in 75 appearances for his national side. Having also become the first player since Dieter Muller in 1976/77 to score 30 goals in a Bundesliga campaign, all eyes in the Northern Ireland camp will be on keeping Europe’s most complete marksman quiet.
But Adam Nawalka’s charges are by no means a one-man band. Support striker Arkadiusz Milik excelled for Ajax this season and proved a constant menace for the White Eagles en-route to France, laying on six assists and chipping in with six goals.
Chuck in wing wizard Kamil Grosicky and the Northern Ireland defence look likely to be in for a tough task if they’re to keep a clean sheet for only the fifth fixture in 21 competitive outings.
The Green & White Army were fortunate to be pitted in a soft qualification draw but the club-like atmosphere fostered by O’Neill has made the minnows a potential banana skin for more fancied opponents.
Premier League quality defenders Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart and Gareth McAuley give the group a solid backbone whilst Steven Davis’ inspirational role in central midfield often goes unnoticed.
Northern Ireland arrive unbeaten in 12 (W6-D6-L0) with confidence oozing out of the group.
But this is a limited team built on old-fashioned ideals of hard work and organisation. The Green & White Army simply lack the match-winning quality to oust more powerful nations.
Nevertheless, they’re a plucky bunch and it’s worth noting the underdogs have conceded two or more goals on just two occasions in nearly three years. Rarely embarrassed, O’Neill’s squad excel at set-pieces and could easily nick a goal in an ultimately disappointing first fixture.
Northern Ireland scored nine of their 16 goals from dead-ball situations during qualification and so the likes of Kyle Lafferty (7/2) and Gareth McAuley (12/1) represent decent value to notch in the Anytime Goalscorer market.
Of the sides on show this summer, only the Czech Republic (14) shipped more goals during qualification than Poland (10) and despite a fortunate shutout against Germany, Nawalka’s men only managed to silence Georgia and Gibraltar en-route.
Between the two teams, Both Teams To Score banked in 12/20 (60%) of qualifying matches and with Poland fancied to clinch maximum points here, it may pay to have a play on the 7/2 offered on a Polish win alongside BTTS.
Poland to win and Both Teams To Score @ 7/2
*Prices correct at time of publication.