Today sees the start for the ultimate tournament masters, a couple of dark horses and the Green and White Army!
How good is Joachim Low?
WE live in an age where the managers are the stars, and especially in the Premier League where Mourinho, Klopp, Guardiola, Conte, Wenger, Pochettino, Ranieri will all be in the dugouts next season. English clubs have the financial clout to go after whoever they want, but one name that never figures on the lists is Joachim Low.
But look at his record in charge of Germany in major tournaments – final, semi-final, semi-final, World Champions.
Now he prepares for his fifth one, but a few doubts persist. Qualification was not as smooth as expected with defeats to Poland and the Republic of Ireland, while there have been home losses in friendlies to England and Slovakia. Key players like Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose bowed out after glory in Brazil, and the team is still re-adjusting.
But this is Germany and this is a tournament. They’re the masters at summer football and surely Low will come up with a successful plan for the Euros – starting today against Ukraine.
Player of the Day: Kyle Lafferty
ALL tournaments are dominated by injury worries in the build-up.
Zinedine Zidane’s thigh (2002 World Cup), David Beckham and Wayne Rooney’s metatarsals (2002 and 2006). To that list, we can add Kyle Lafferty’s groin.
There was a hint of panic for Northern Ireland fans when Lafferty limped out of training in midweek, but he has declared himself 100% fit for their opener against Poland this afternoon. The striker played just 13 minutes of Premier League football for Norwich last season and spent the last few weeks on loan at Birmingham in the Championship.
He’s managed only five club goals in the last two seasons, yet scored seven times for the Green and White Army in the Euro 2016 qualifiers. He is Northern Ireland’s talisman and a different animal when he pulls on the green shirt.
A strong showing in France would confirm his status back home and could transform his domestic career.
Out for revenge
CROATIA have played Turkey six times in their brief history and only lost once but it was by far the most important. It was the quarter-final of Euro 2008 where the Croats were flying under Slaven Bilic.
They had knocked England out of the qualifiers with that famous 3-2 win at Wembley and beaten Germany in the group stages. A goal in the 119th minute from former Bolton striker Ivan Klasnic looked to have seen off the Turks only for them to concede an even-later equaliser and collapse in the penalty shoot-out.
Eight years on, they meet again in a tournament in Paris’ Parc des Princes. With players from Real Madrid (Luka Modric), Barcelona (Ivan Rakitic) and Juventus (Mario Mandzukic) in their team, Croatia have every right to believe this can be the first step on the road to matching and even surpassing their efforts of 2008.
French of the day
C’est incroyable! (It’s unbelievable!)
2pm: Turkey vs Croatia (Parc des Princes, ITV)
5pm: Poland vs Northern Ireland (Allianz Riviera, BBC)
8pm: Germany vs Ukraine (Stade Pierre-Mauroy, BBC)
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