Northern Ireland make their European Championship debut as they face a tough Poland test, dark horses Croatia take on Turkey, while World champions Germany are also in action against Ukraine.
Turkey v Croatia
1400 ~ Parc de Princes, Paris
Croatia may have been the one’s that denied Turkey a place at Euro 2016 but head coach Faith Terim said they need to show them respect and thinks Turan is crucial to any success Turkey will have at Euro 2016.
“Croatia are an important team with important players and we respect them a lot”, said the former Galatasaray manager.
“We would like Arda Turan to play more for his club [Barcelona], but he was a regular [for Turkey] even when he did not play at all [until January]. Whether or not he plays regularly for his club, Arda is our most important player.”
Croatia gaffer Ante Cacic wants a good start from his team and while he believes he has some young bright talent in his squad, his experienced players also have a big role to play.
“We need to start by retaining possession, press them and push for three points,” said the 62-year-old.
“We have quality players, a good team spirit and some players with experience of two Euros and a World Cup. We have some new quality young players, which means we have a good mixture.”
Defender Serdar Aziz did not make Turkey’s 23-man squad due to injury, while Gokhan Tore was also dropped as he is suspended for their first two games.
Terim has no concerns from the 23 men he did bring to France but must decide to play Burak Yilmaz or Cenk Tosun as their lone striker up front.
Croatia also have a full strength squad to choose from, but Dejan Lovren did not make the trip to France after falling out with the manager. Barcelona midfielder Alen Halilovic also didn’t make the final squad.
Poland v Northern Ireland
1700 ~ Allianz Riviera, Nice
It may be their third Euros but Poland search for their first European Championships win against Northern Ireland and manager Adam Nawalka thinks this Polish side have a good chance of causing a few surprises.
“What I can assure you is that we are 100% ready for this challenge,” said the 58-year-old.
“The team have developed really well so we have high hopes here in France, but this is football – anything can happen. Still, I believe in this team as we have shown we can play well in difficult games.”
Northern Ireland come into their first ever Euros match on the back of a 12-game unbeaten run and gaffer Michael O’Neill is confident that his side can keep it going against a tough Polish side.
“We expect a very tough game but we’re confident,” said the 46-year-old.
“Lewandowski is in my opinion in the top two centre-forwards in the world. We know the threat of Milik and know the Polish team very well. We have done a lot of work on the Poland team as a whole. We know their strengths and we know their weaknesses.”
Poland winger Kamil Grosicki is a major doubt for their opener after he picked up an ankle injury in last week’s 0-0 draw against Lithuania, while fellow wingers Maciej Rybus and Pawel Wszolek were left out of the squad due to injury.
Northern Ireland boss O’Neill must decided whether to risk Kyle Lafferty, after he suffered a groin injury in training on Tuesday, which could give Will Grigg the nod up front in place of the Norwich striker.
There are no other injury concerns for Northern Ireland ahead of their European Championship debut, as West Brom’s Chris Brunt long-term knee injury meant he was left out of the squad.
Germany v Ukraine
2000 ~ Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille
World champions Germany will be aiming to win the European Championship for the first time in 20 years and while many expect Germany to cruise past Ukraine, head coach Joachim Low is wary that they could cause an upset.
“They can go full speed for 90 minutes,” said the 56-year-old.
“Ukraine are very physical and have quick players on the wings. who are very dangerous when it comes to counterattacks. But if we do what we are capable of and are careful in possession, then we are capable of beating Ukraine.”
Ukraine face a big ask to topple one of the tournament favourites in their opening game and Ukraine boss Mykhyalo Formenko agrees it will be a tough ask for his side to get a result against the world champions.
“Everybody in our camp understands what a hard game this will be,” said the former USSR player.
“It’s always difficult to get off to a good start but at least there will be no surprises as Germany will play quality football no matter what. They’ll be ambitious – they haven’t won a European title for a long time, so they’ll be eager to put that right in France.”
Soon-to-be Bayern Munich defender Mats Hummels in Low’s main concern ahead of their date with Ukraine, as he will face a late fitness test on a calf injury.
Roma defender Antonio Rudiger was ruled out of the tournament after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament on Tuesday with Bayer Leverkusen’s Jonathan Tah called up to replace the Chelsea target.
Fomenko has no concerns in his 23-man squad but must make a tough decision on who to play in the central attacking midfield role, with Denys Garmash, Serhiy Sydorchuk and Viktor Kovalenko all vying to start.