EURO 2016: Northern Ireland v Germany - the talking points
Northern Ireland's Group C campaign concludes in Paris on Tuesday against Joachim Low's Germany at the Parc des Princes.
The victory over Ukraine has given Michael O’Neill’s men an excellent chance of advancing to the last 16 while the Germans are also set to go through having accrued four points from their opening two fixtures.
Here are some of the talking points ahead of the contest.
SHOULD O’NEILL STICK OR TWIST?
The gamble to make five switches from the team that faced Poland worked against Ukraine as O’Neill’s much-changed side followed up their 1-0 defeat with a 2-0 victory. That XI was selected with Ukraine and their threats out wide in mind so, after such an impressive display in Lyon, will O’Neill go with that team again some 300 miles north in Paris? Kyle Lafferty, one of the quintet dropped, suggested nobody deserves to be taken out, but O’Neill has always been a cerebral boss that assesses the situation.
WILL POSSESSION BE NINE TENTHS OF THE LAW?
After two games at Euro 2016, no team had had more possession than Germany, who have enjoyed 63 per cent of the ball so far. Northern Ireland were restricted to only 40 per cent possession against the Poles and 34 per cent in the Ukraine clash, and they are expecting the world champions to hog the ball again at the Parc des Princes. What O’Neill’s side have proved is that they can still win games without dictating play so do not be surprised to see plenty of Toni Kroos spinning the Germans’ passing carousel.
CAN NORTHERN IRELAND DELIVER FROM SET PIECES?
Northern Ireland did not manage a shot on target against Poland in their opener so Manuel Neuer can expect to be more sweeper than keeper in Paris. Norn Iron did carry a threat from set pieces in qualifying, though, and it was via that method that they opened the scoring in Lyon through a Gareth McAuley header from Oliver Norwood’s exquisite free-kick. Norwood has to produce from corners and free-kicks in an area where O’Neill will feel they can pose Germany problems.
WHO WILL GERMANY PLAY UP FRONT?
Low utilised three different men at the fulcrum of his attack against Poland last Thursday, and none of them managed to inspire a goal. Bayern Munich’s Mario Gotze occupied the position to start with, as Low believed the Polish centre-backs’ strength was in the air, before Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez were tried in that berth. Northern Ireland’s defence has a similarly strong aerial presence so Low may seek to negate that by playing to a ‘false nine’ along the deck.
DO NORTHERN IRELAND EVEN NEED TO WIN?
Niall McGinn’s stoppage-time strike against Ukraine ensured O’Neill’s side have a positive goal difference heading into this contest. With the four best third-placed teams advancing, three points may prove to be enough given goal difference is the first tie-breaking scenario when countries are level on points. Albania, third in Group A, finished with a goal difference of -2, and scored one fewer goal than the Northern Irish so, as long as O’Neill’s team can avoid a shellacking against the Germans, they might go through anyway.