By Dean Laughton (Northern Ireland) & Liz Manning (Poland)
Northern Ireland (Dean Laughton)
How will I watch it?
Up and down the country over the last few weeks, in pubs, offices, on building sites or wherever the Euro 2016 sweepstake draw was being made, the sight of seeing your chosen scrunched up piece of paper being unravelled to reveal the words ‘Northern Ireland’ has been met with a collective rolling of the eyes and sighs of hopelessness.
Not me. If the latest Premier League season has taught me anything, it is that the optimistic cliché of “it’s eleven versus eleven” should be ringing in the ears of players, fans and coaches going into every football match from now on. So when I settle down to watch my adopted Northern Ireland’s opening match at a family BBQ on Sunday afternoon, with a minted lamb kebab in one hand and a bottle of Corona in the other, I will be fully expecting the boys to get a result against this much improved Poland side.
Players to watch:
Although out of favour at Norwich, Kyle Lafferty was immense in qualifying and is the talisman of this team. During his career, Lafferty’s professionalism and commitment has always been the subject of criticism from managers, fellow teammates and even himself, but on his day he can cause all sorts of trouble with his awkward, gangly frame and eye for goal.
Reading midfielder Oliver Norwood is another to look out for. Norwood is my kind of midfielder, technically very tidy and his vision and range of passing gives him the ability to become the architect of his side’s attack. He’s got a shot on him too, and Poland should be very wary in conceding free kicks within shooting range.
And of course, football fans across the country on Sunday evening will be all be hoping for Wigan’s Will Grigg to score. The flammable 25 year-old will probably start on the bench, but his superb goalscoring form helped Wigan win League 1 and he is pretty much Northern Ireland’s answer to Jamie Vardy.
Poland are a very diligent, fit and well balanced side who I’m sure will dominate much of the game. Stopping the supply to Robert Lewandowski will be crucial, so Paddy McNair and/or Chris Baird will need to be on high alert. If he does get the ball I have faith that Northern Ireland’s West Brom warrior duo of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans will have soaked up enough of Tony Pulis’ expertise in stifling to prevent a goal.
The Northern Irish players will know they have a fully supportive country behind them.
Kyle Lafferty’s local pub has even been named ‘Lafferty’s’ to honour his presumably regular custom, and I think this spirit will be enough to break up any Polish rhythm. Being somewhat realistic, with Lewandowski up front I think Poland will eventually score, but Will Grigg is on fire and I do think the stage is set for him to make his mark.
My prediction: Poland 1-1 Northern Ireland
Poland (Liz Manning)
If you think I knew nothing about English football having read my preview last night, just wait till you see how little I know about Polish football!
My parents are from the Republic of Ireland, and I will be supporting Northern Ireland in this game. This game is a win-win situation for me, as football watching experiences go. If NI win, yay, glory for the homeland! If Poland win, then I’m just one step closer to that sweet, sweet, sweepstake prize. And I am a competitive lady.
Where will I be watching?
I’ll still be on the Wirral with my Dad and Ollie. However, as we’ll have done a 15-mile charity coastal walk in the morning, we may actually all be dead. I’m sure Ollie will keep us updated to irritate me.
Players to watch:
Well, I know literally none of them, but Ollie tells me I’d probably fancy the striker, Robert Lewandowski. I don’t – but he is apparently Europe’s top striker. The BBC call him ‘deadly’. Perhaps Poland have a chance, even if they are two places below NI in the latest FIFA rankings?
Poland have never scored a goal at the Euros, but they are being billed as favourites for the game. However, forward Arkadiusz Milik insisted that Poland are not underestimating their opponents. Neither will I, in that case. I predict Poland 2 – Northern Ireland 1.