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Euro 2016 | Day 3: Germany emerge as early leaders, Croatia avenge 2008 defeat & Northern Ireland's underwhelming debut

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Euro 2016 | Day 3: Germany emerge as early leaders, Croatia avenge 2008 defeat & Northern Ireland's underwhelming debut

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Amlan Majumdar

06/13/2016

Croatia made a winning start to their campaign against Turkey courtesy of a stunning goal from Luka Modric. Northern Ireland's ultra-defensive approach led to Poland's first ever win at the European Championship, while Germany got the job done with a 2-0 win over Ukraine to lead Group C.

Croatia lay the ghost of 2008 to rest

Almost eight years back Croatia suffered one of their biggest heartbreaks in their footballing history at the hands of Turkey. Like in this Euro, they were labeled as the dark horse in Euro 2008, and they justified that tag by beating Germany and finishing the group stage with 100% record. In the quarter-final, Ivan Klasnic put them in the lead in the 119th minute of the match, and the Croatians celebrated like there was no tomorrow. However, just before the final whistle, Semih Senturk equalized for Turkey, and the deflated Croatian side went on to lose the penalty shootout.

Before the start of their Group D clash against Turkey, Croatian captain Darjo Srna, who played in that game back in 2008, stressed on the need to “play until the very last second”. So even after Luka Modric put them in the lead with a stunning volley from outside of the box in the 41st minute, Croatia did not let their guards down. They kept pushing for more goals, and although they wasted a lot of opportunities to do so, this Turkey side did not show enough fight in them to repeat what their predecessors did.

Boasting of one of the best midfield combinations, in Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, and Milan Badelj, in the tournament, Croatia have once again marked as the team to watch out for. However, coach Ante Cacic will hope that his team can be more clinical in front of the goal, when they face Czech Republic and Spain in their next outings.

An underwhelming debut for Northern Ireland

It was perhaps understandable as well. It was their first appearance ever in the main stage of this competition, and their first appearance in a big tournament since the 1986 World Cup. There would have been nerves as the players walked out on the pitch of Allianz Riviera to take on Poland. Their opponents had scored more than double the number of goals in the qualifying, in fact, Robert Lewandowski had scored almost the same number of goals as Norther Ireland had managed in their campaign. However, their ultra-defensive approach in this match, led to a very underwhelming debut for them.

Michael O'Neill went into this match with three center backs, with Shane Ferguson and Conor McLaughlin dropping back to make it a 5-man defense when they did not have the ball—which was for most of the game. This approach meant Norther Ireland managed just two shots in the whole of the 90 minutes, and the game was there for Poland to win.   And they did so through Arkadiusz Milik's goal in the second half, and on the hindsight, they should have scored a lot more as well.

It was Poland's first ever win at the European championship. Four years back, when they hosted the Euro with Ukraine, they finished the group stage without a win—like they did back in the Euro 2008 as well. Their last win in a tournament came in the 2006 World Cup, when they defeated Costa Rica 1-2 in their last group stage game. Manager Adam Nawalka will hope that this win will lead to a turn in Polish fortunes.

Germany get the job done against Ukraine, but chinks are visible

The German side has been ravaged with injuries in the build-up to the tournament. From Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan to Antonio Ruediger, all are out of contention. Even Mats Hummels was not fit enough to start against Ukraine. Except Draxler and Sane, who was on the bench, there is a lack of pace in the attack of the German team.

With Ukraine dropping deep and defending for their lives, Germany enjoyed a lot of possession with Toni Kroos dominating the center of the park. However, they needed a set-piece to score a goal. Shkodran Mustafi headed in a free-kick from Kroos in the 19th minute to give Germany the lead in what was an underwhelming display by the reigning world champions in the first half. In fact, Ukraine could have, and perhaps should have, scored 2-3 goals towards the end of the first half, and Germany have to thank Neuer and Boateng that those goals did not materialize.

Ukraine were disappointing in the second half despite boasting of so much attacking talents in the team. They had just six shots, and perhaps gave the Germans more respect that they deserved. In the end, a counter-attack from a Ukraine's corner, lead to the second goal with Ozil setting up Bastian Schweinsteiger in the added time.

With a 2-0 win, Germany emerged as the early leaders of Group C, however, Joachim Low will have a few concerns to address before their next game. The defence, especially on the wide areas, looked vulnerable, while Draxler seems to be the only player with pace in the lineup he opted for in their opening game.

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