Qualified as: Group D winner
Top scorer in Qualifying: Thomas Muller (13)
Key Player: Mesut Ozil
Manager: Joachim Lowe
The world champions will be determined to assert their dominance on the continental scene as well, possessing a squad as talented and experienced as any other involved in Euro 2016. Die Mannschaft have lost some key players since their World Cup triumph through retirement, most notably Phillip Lahm and Per Mertesacker, but still boast one of international football’s most potent goalscorers in Thomas Muller, who netted 13 times in qualifying, eleven during the last two World Cups and epitomises their supreme blend of technique, tactical awareness and physicality. Arsenal star Mesut Ozil and deep-lying playmaker Toni Kroos are the combined brains of the operation in midfield, whilst Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels offer world-class quality in defence.
Qualified as: Play-off winners
Top scorer in Qualifying: Andiry Yarmolenko (4)
Key Player: Andriy Yarmolenko
Manager: Mkyhaylo Fomenko
Ukraine’s progression through Euro 2016 will depend on a defence that conceded just four times in qualifying and the efforts of their two stellar attacking threats at the other end of the pitch; Yevhen Koloplyanka, one of just four players in Mykhalo Fomenko’s squad not to ply his club trade in Ukrainian football, and in-demand Dynamo Kiev star Andriy Yarmolenko. They provide quality and long-range netting prowess from the flanks but if there’s one thing Ukraine worryingly lack, it’s a striker who scores goals regularly at international level.
Qualified as: Group D runner-up
Top scorer in Qualifying: Robert Lewandowski (9)
Key Player: Robert Lewandowski
Manager: Adam Nawalka
Poland are unfortunate enough to find themselves once again in the same group as bitter rivals Germany, who finished above them in qualifying. Accordingly, Adam Nawalka’s boys can probably hope for a second-place finish at best but they are privy to a talismanic front-man in Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, who has bagged a career-best 42 goals across all competitions this season. Likewise, Grzegorz Krychowiak of Europa-League-winning Sevilla fame offers defensive protection in midfield, whilst Lukasz Piszczek and Jakub Blaszczykowski are famed for their partnership down the right flank.
Qualified as: Group F winners
Top scorer in Qualifying: Kyle Lafferty (7)
Key Player: Steven Davis
Manager: Michael O’Neill
Northern Ireland will be determined to prove they’re not at Euro 2016 simply to make up the numbers, especially after the limelight of qualifying as group winners was somehow eclipsed in the British media by Wales’ runner-up finish. But Michael O’Neill faces some difficult choices; Chris Brunt, an experienced international who brings real quality and experience to the side, is absent through injury, whilst top goalscorer Kyle Lafferty has spent the majority of the season rotting in Norwich’s reserves. Nonetheless, Northern Ireland boast a well-bonded and familiar squad, more than aware of where their strengths do and don’t lie.
Considering Germany are likely to dispose of their Group C opposition rather comfortably and Northern Ireland could find themselves drastically out of their depth, second place appears to be a fight between Poland and Ukraine – two teams boasting a few top-class names but limited quality overall. So by the time they meet in the ultimate fixture of Group C, Ukraine and Poland could find themselves in a straight-up playoff for runner up. With political subplots aplenty, it’s shaping up to be a real firecracker of a match.