Euro 2016’s Group C features the world champions, the world’s hottest center forward over the past season and four teams that all believe they have a chance of getting out of the group.
Germany headlines group Group C as the heavy favorites to win the group, but chasing the world champs are dangerous sides Poland and Ukraine along with cinderella debutante Northern Ireland.
Here’s a closer look at Group C:
Schedule (Times Eastern)
June 12– Poland vs. Northern Ireland (ESPN/ESPN Deportes/ESPN3), 12 p.m.
June 12– Germany vs. Ukraine (ESPN/ESPN Deportes/ESPN3), 3 p.m.
June 16– Ukraine vs. Northern Ireland (ESPN/ESPN Deportes/ESPN3), 12 p.m.
June 16– Germany vs. Poland (ESPN/ESPN Deportes/ESPN3), 3 p.m.
June 21– Northern Ireland vs. Germany (ESPN/ESPN Deportes/ESPN3), 12 p.m.
June 21– Ukraine vs. Poland (ESPN2/ESPN Deportes/ESPN3), 12 p.m.
PLAYERS TO WATCH– Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos, Mario Götze.
NAME TO LEARN– Leroy Sané. The Germans are bringing four players 21 or younger – Sané, Dortmund’s Julian Weigel, Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich and Bayer Leverkusen’s Jonathan Tah– and while the star-studded German lineup will be tough to crack, Sané’s pace off the bench could make him an impactful sub. The 20-year-old winger made 42 appearances for Schalke this past season, scoring nine goals.
Goalkeepers: Bernd Leno (Bayer Leverkusen), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)
Defenders: Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Emre Can (Liverpool), Jonas Hector (Köln), Benedikt Höwedes (Schalke), Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich), Shkodran Mustafi (Valencia), Jonathan Tah (Bayer Leverkusen)
Midfielders: Julian Draxler (Wolfsburg), Sami Khedira (Juventus), Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Mesut Özil (Arsenal), Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray), André Schürrle (Wolfsburg), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Manchester United), Julian Weigl (Borussia Dortmund)
Forwards: Mario Gomez (Besiktas), Mario Götze (Bayern Munich), Leroy Sané (Schalke)
OUTLOOK– The reigning World Cup champions were semifinalists four years ago and finished top of their qualifying group. Even with Marco Reus missing out on a second consecutive major tournament due to injury, the German lineup is still packed with a glut world-class talent. There are, however, some other injury concerns to worry about as Hummels and Bastian Schweisteiger are working their way back and Antonio Rudiger tore his ACL in the final week of training. Results have been mixed in warm up friendlies – blowing a two-goal lead against England, a 4-1 win over Italy, a 3-1 loss to Slovakia and a 2-0 win over Hungary – but despite those results, once meaningful games kick in the World Champs will be favored to win the group and are one of the favorites to take the title.
PLAYERS TO WATCH– Steven Davis, Kyle Lafferty, Gareth McAuley, Stuart Dallas, Chris Baird.
NAME TO LEARN– Will Grigg. The 24-year-old Wigan winger is unproven on the international stage and was one of the last inclusions in the team, but has scored 20-plus goals each of the last two seasons in England’s League One.
Goalkeepers: Roy Carroll (Notts County), Alan Mannus (St. Johnstone), Michael McGovern (Hamilton)
Defenders: Chris Baird (Fulham), Craig Cathcart (Watford), Jonny Evans (West Bromwich Albion), Lee Hodson (MK Dons), Aaron Hughes (Melbourne City), Gareth McAuley (West Bromwich Albion), Luke McCullough (Doncaster Rovers), Connor McLaughlin Fleetwood), Paddy McNair (Manchester United)
Midfielders: Stuart Dallas (Leeds United), Steven Davis (Southampton), Corry Evans (Blackburn Rovers), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Oliver Norwood (Reading), Jamie Ward (Nottingham Forest)
Forwards: Will Grigg (Wigan Athletic), Kyle Lafferty (Norwich City), Josh Magennis (Kilmarnock), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Conor Washington (Queens Park Rangers)
OUTLOOK– Northern Ireland makes its European Championships debut, reaching its fourth major tournament finals, and its first in 30 years since going to the World Cup in 1986. The Green and White Army didn’t squeak in either, winning their qualifying group. Southampton midfielder Davis captains the side and Lafferty led Northern Ireland by scoring seven times in qualifying. Buoyed by its historic qualification, Northern Ireland will believe it could do more than just enjoy its first trip to the Euros and possible pull an upset or two to push for a surprise advancement out of the group.
PLAYERS TO WATCH – Robert Lewandowski, Arkadiusz Milik, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Kamil Gilk, Kamil Grosicki, Jakub Błaszczykowski.
NAME TO LEARN – Arkadiusz Milik. The man who will partner with Lewandowski, Milik is a 22-year-old Ajax No. 9 who scored 21 goals in the Eredivisie last season, six more in qualification for Euro 2016 and was on the Polish version of the FIFA 16 cover alongside Messi.
Goalkeepers: Łukasz Fabiański (Swansea), Wojciech Szczęsny (Roma), Artur Boruc (Bournemouth)
Defenders: Thiago Cionek (Palermo), Kamil Glik (Torino), Artur Jędrzejczyk (Legia), Michał Pazdan (Legia), Łukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund), Bartosz Salamon (Cagliari), Jakub Wawrzyniak (Lechia Gdańsk)
Midfielders: Jakub Błaszczykowski (Fiorentina), Kamil Grosicki (Rennes), Tomasz Jodłowiec (Legia), Bartosz Kapustka (Cracovia), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Sevilla), Karol Linetty (Lech Poznań), Krzysztof Mączyński (Wisła), Sławomir Peszko (Lechia Gdańsk), Filip Starzyński (Zagłębie Lubin), Piotr Zieliński (Empoli)
Forwards: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Arkadiusz Milik (Ajax), Mariusz Stępiński (Ruch Chorzów)
OUTLOOK– All eyes will be on Lewandowski, the Bayern Munich star who scored 42 goals for the club last season and was the top scorer in Euro 2016 qualification, netting 13 goals. A star like Lewandowski leading the way means expectations are high despite never advancing from the group in a European Championships (and not getting out of a World Cup group in 30 years). Poland finished second to Germany in their qualifying group and after their first ever win against the Germans, Poland won’t be intimidated to see the World Cup holders in the group stage from which they expect to advance. One question mark is the goalkeeper situation, which seems to still be up in the air with Wojciech Szczęsny, Artur Boruc and Łukasz Fabiański all seeing action in recent friendlies.
PLAYERS TO WATCH – Andriy Yarmolenko, Taras Stepanenko, Yevhen Konoplyanka, Andriy Pyatov, Ruslan Rotan, Denys Garmash.
NAME TO LEARN – Viktor Kovalenko. The 20-year-old Shakhtar Donetsk central midfielder has yet to make an official senior international appearance, but has featured in recent friendlies and was the golden boot winner at the 2015 U-20 World Cup with five goals plus two assists. He broke into the Shakhtar first team in 2015/16 and racked up 46 appearances in all competition, scoring four goals and assisting on six more.
Goalkeepers: Denys Boyko (Besiktas), Andriy Pyatov (Shakhtar), Mykyta Shevchenko (Zorya)
Defenders: Bohdan Butko (Amkar), Artem Fedetskyi (Dnipro), Yevhen Khacheridi (Dynamo Kiev), Olexandr Kucher (Shakhtar), Yaroslav Rakytskyi (Shakhtar), Vyacheslav Shevchuk (Shakhtar)
Midfielders: Denys Garmash (Dynamo Kiev), Olexandr Karavaev (Zorya), Yevhen Konoplyanka (Sevilla), Viktor Kovalenko (Shakhtar),Ruslan Rotan (Dnipro), Serhiy Rybalka (Dynamo Kiev),Taras Stepanenko (Shakhtar), Serhiy Sydorchuk (Dynamo Kiev), Anatolyi Tumoschuk (Kairat), Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kiev), Oleksandr Zinchenko (UFA)
Forwards: Pylyp Budkivskyi (Zorya), Yevhen Seleznyov (Shakhtar), Roman Zozylya (Dnipro)
OUTLOOK– Ukraine is led by its strength in midfield with Dynamo Kyiv’s Yarmolenko and Sevila’s Konoplyanka on the wings and Shakhtar Donetsk’s Stepanenko centrally, but lacks for reliable strikers. Yarmolenko is already the second-highest scorer in his nation’s history. Another possible midfield talent to watch is 19-year-old midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko, who scored in a recent friendly to become the youngest goalscorer in Ukraine’s history. An on-field fight and ensuing spat between Yarmolenko and Stepanenko in a recent club derby raised concerns about squad unity but the two key players held a press conference to publicly shake hands before leaving for a European Championships where expectations will be to get out of the group.