Poland v Northern Ireland
Monday June 13, 2:00am
Poland were the highest scorers in qualification and the fact that they managed to beat Germany in that campaign will no doubt form a large part of Adam Nawalka’s team talk when they re-oppose them here.
They’ll hope to go into that match on Thursday with maximum points and this author was initially surprised to see them as big as 1.74 to do so. Their first opponents are Northern Ireland who take part in their first major tournament for three decades. The Irishman are odds-on across the board to finish bottom of Group C and anything other than a wooden spoon will be a huge achievement in what’s a very difficult pool.
Robert Lewandowski scored 13 of Poland’s goals in qualifying and he is ably backed up by Arkadiusz Milik in attack after a good season with Ajax, while Grzegorz Krychowiak is one of the best holding midfielders in Europe and Kamil Glik and Lukasz Piszczek bring quality and experience to the back-four.
Looking at a wider trend, there have be 14 matches since 2013 in the group stages of major international competitions where a team have faced a side ranked 15-35 places lower than themselves and the stronger team has come out on top 10 times including W6-D1-L0 in Brazil 2014.
Northern Ireland are used to being underdogs. They advanced through to the finals as group winners in Group F despite being ranked lower than four of the other five teams. Furthermore, they scored five more goals than other side while conceding the second fewest.
Despite their success in getting here we still have them ranked as the second-lowest in France 2016 (above only Albania) and Poland are a much tougher test than they faced in qualifying. Northern Ireland have faced teams ranked 26-50 12 times since 2011 and they’ve won just twice while losing eight times. While they’ve certainly improved going forward in recent years they’ve struggled to scare better teams. In the 13 games they’ve failed to net 10 times and that puts us off backing Poland with both sides scoring.
To do well in big tournaments you need match winners and in Lewandowski Poland have that. The front-man has 34 in 75 appearances for his country. More impressively, this season he became this first player since Dieter Muller in 1976/77 to score 30 goals in a Bundesliga campaign (Germany is the only one of the Major top-leagues to have 18 teams rather than 20 so they play four fewer matches than, say, in Serie A).
Given Poland’s attacking prowess and Lewandowski’s hot form it’s impossible to ignore him at 2.00 to score anytime and given how easily they’ve dispatched lesser opposition in the past we wouldn’t put anyone off him to score at least twice at 5.50 or a memorable hat-trick at 23.0.
The tempting prices don’t stop with the Bayern striker. The 1.74 available generally is our standout selection but we also like a Poland HT/FT at 3.00 and Poland -1.5 at 3.20.
BACK – Poland Win 1.74