Joachim Low’s Germany will be looking to ease through to the last 16 of the UEFA Euro 2016 but they face a Polish threat in the Group C. In their previous game, Germany got the better of Ukraine with Shkodran Mustafi’s header finding the net from a curling Toni Kroos cross. Though Bastian Schweinsteiger’s goal in injury time sealed the game, Ukraine penetrated the German defense on a number of occasions and should have probably scored a couple if it wasn’t for Manuel Neuer’s heroics.
Poland had a good game against Northern Ireland and while it wasn’t easy to break the tough Irish defense, 22-year-old Arek Milik did the trick when he got on the end of Jakub Baszczykowski’s pass and slotted in the lower right corner of the net. This will be the 21st encounter between these 2 teams with Germany winning 13 of them and drawing 6.
As we build up to this epic encounter, here is a look at the 5 players to watch out for.
#1 Manuel Neuer (Germany)
One of the best goalkeepers of all time, Manuel Neuer has made breathtaking saves throughout his career for both Germany and Bayern Munich and he will be required against Poland’s strong attack. Neuer was responsible for keeping a clean sheet against Ukraine with a couple of diving saves. He has been excellent in his positioning and has had great chemistry with centre-back Jerome Boateng in caging the opponent strikers, giving them no room to pass or shoot.
Even at the age of 30, Neuer is showing no signs of slowing down as he continues to make acrobatic saves and some of them have been unbelievable, to say the least. Being a ‘sweeper-keeper’, Neuer has allowed his team to go on the offense completely while taking care of counter-attacks, running towards the midfield and making the necessary clearances.
Oppositions have struggled to get past Neuer even in 1-on-1 situations. Germany already has a psychological advantage with the presence of Neuer. No player has been able to challenge the goalkeeper’s position and replace him in the National team. He continues to remain their No.1 goalkeeper with Marc-André ter Stegen and Bernd Leno as backups. Neuer was at the top of his game against Ukraine and a similar performance will be expected against Poland.
#2 Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
Often shadowed by Messi, Ronaldo and Suarez, Robert Lewandowski has been sensational for the teams he has played for and never been short of goals. With the ability to use both his feet, Lewandowski can be lethal even when he is having a bad day and is certainly a nightmare for the opposition’s defense. The Bayern Munich striker has both strength and composure to score crucial goals and always lives up to the expectations.
Voted Poland’s best sportsperson of the year by Przeglad Sportowy in 2015, Lewandowski has been the beating heart of Poland, scoring 34 goals for his country from 77 appearances. Though he was silent in the game against Northern Ireland, the 27-year-old was integral to Poland qualifying for the Euro 2016, scoring 13 goals in the qualifying stages and remains the highest goalscorer for Poland in this tournament so far.
Apart from his brilliant dribbling skills, Lewandowski also has the ability to score outrageous goals from long distances and is targeted by his team-mates from set-pieces where he can effortlessly head the ball into the net and who can forget the 5 goals he scored in a span of 9 minutes against Vfl Wolfsburg in September last year.
#3 Mesut Ozil (Germany)
Missing out on winning the Premier League title this year with Arsenal, Ozil seems to have found his best form with the Gunners. Almost beating the record of Thierry Henry for the record number of assists (20) in a single season of the Premier League, the 27-year-old German playmaker has been known for his slide-rul passes and near perfect through balls. Ozil’s creativity in the midfield will be essential for Die Mannschaft as they head into their second game of their European campaign.
Mesut Ozil recorded the highest number of assists in the 2012 edition of Uefa Euro and he has already opened his tally when he was involved in Germany’s second goal against Ukraine, assisting Bastian Schweinsteiger, who volleyed the ball into the net.
Though Ozil’s form declined in the final stages of the Premier League season this year, he will be the player to watch out for as his caliber allows him to glide through the midfield and score goals himself when the opportunity presents itself. With his excellent vision, ball control and dribbling skills, Ozil will be at the center of attack for Germany, helping them break down the resilient Polish defense.
#4 Jakub Baszczykowski (Poland)
Playing as a winger for Poland and Fiorentina (on loan from Borussia Dortmund), Jakub Blaszczykowski consists of all the necessary attributes to create menace for the opposition from the wings. Electrifying pace and dribbling have been his main strengths and he has been using them effectively, helping Poland through the qualifiers, also scoring the winning goal against Serbia in an international friendly.
The former Polish captain lost his armband to ex-Borussia Dortmund team-mate Robert Lewandowski but that has not affected his performances on the field. Blaszczykowski was involved in the goal against Northern Ireland, assisting Arek Milik and helping Poland register their first victory in the tournament.
Understandably, he had a below-par season playing for Fiorentina in the Serie A while adapting to the club’s playing style and the league. Over 190 appearances for Borussia Dortmund and 80 appearances for his national team, Blaszczykowski has always made his presence felt with his crosses and quick passes. Poland, especially relying on long balls and crosses, will require the 30-year-old’s assistance to give them the breakthrough against the German defense.
#5 Thomas Muller (Germany)
One of the most settled players in this German line-up, Muller’s versatility has greatly helped him evolve as a complete player over the years and become one of Germany’s finest footballers. Starting off as a midfielder, Muller found himself playing as a winger and attacking midfielder soon after playing consistently for the first team. The 26-year-old has shown that he can be used as a ‘false nine’ as well when needed. He has found success playing in various roles and his attitude has been tremendous in difficult situations, often being the inspiration for his team.
Müller wasn’t exactly at his best for Germany against Ukraine even though he played the entire game. Joachim Low will consider starting Müller as the central striker against Poland as he has scored over 30 goals for Germany in 72 appearances. Muller will be key to Die Mannschaft’s chances of overcoming Poland and progressing into the tournament.