England climbed to the top of Group B after Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy and Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge scored to complete a brilliant comeback victory over neighbours Wales.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland made history on Thursday by winning their first ever game at the European Championships as they eased past Ukraine with a comfortable 2-0 scoreline.
However, it was a rather disappointing night for Germany, who failed to score in a goalless draw against Poland. While the Germans retained their position at top of the group with this result, Group C remains very open. In fact, Northern Ireland still have a chance to top the group if they defeat Germany in their last game.
England 2-1 Wales
The Three Lions played some impressive football in their opener against Russia, but there were still question marks about manager Roy Hodgson’s team selection.England seemed to carry some of the edginess from the last game into this match as they struggled to open up the Welsh defence in the first half. A brilliant long-range free kick by Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale gave Wales a shock lead minutes before half time.
Hodgson responded with a couple of changes as the second half started, bringing on Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge and Premier League winner Jamie Vardy in place of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling. The change immediately did the trick as Vardy scored the equaliser, putting away a loose ball from inside the six-yard box. Sturridge stole all three points for the Three Lions deep into injury time after some neat footwork from Dele Alli inside the penalty area, sending the England fans into delirium.
Although England failed to get the desired result against Russia, they showed that they have the quality and depth in their squad to win the difficult matches. However, this match made it abundantly clear that it is time for Hodgson to drop the out-of-form Raheem Sterling. Premier League top scorer Harry Kane has also not show the same form for England and could face the axe.
Player of the match: Dele Alli
In a closely fought match between the two sides, Dele Alli emerged as the best player as he came up with the crucial assist that put England on top of Group B. Alli had an action-packed match, making two key passes, completing four successful dribbles, and winning two aerial challenges and four tackle (via WhoScored). The Tottenham Hotspur man had his work cut out while operating against a packed Welsh midfield, but came out with flying colours in the end as England snatched their first win of Euro 2016.
The task is quite simple for England heading into their last match of Group B. A win in their final game against Slovakia will take them through to the quarter-finals as group winners. Even a draw will ensure that they finish at least second in the group. However, a loss could put them in all sorts of trouble, particularly if Wales manage to beat Russia in their final game.
Ukraine 0-2 Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland made history on Thursday as they won their first ever match at the European Championships, recording a 2-0 victory over Ukraine in a hail-interrupted match.
Gareth McAuley powerfully headed in an Oliver Norwood freekick just after half time to put Northern Ireland ahead in the match. The game was largely controlled by Ukraine, who kept 70% possession of the ball and played more than three times the number of accurate passes as Ireland on the night. However, it was the Green and White Army who secured the win deep into injury time through Niall McGinn’s effort from a rebound.
Player of the match: Gareth McAuley
The West Brom defender managed to get the win for his country after scoring from a towering header in the second half. The Northern Irishmen were being pegged back a lot during the match, but McAuley’s goal seemed to give them the belief to hold on for the three points. Other than scoring the goal, McAuley also proved to be a rock at the heart of the defence. He was especially good in the air, winning three aerial duels during the match (via WhoScored).
As four of the best third-placed finishers in the group stages also make it to the round of 16, Ukraine are not out of it just yet. A win against Poland in their last match of the group stage could see them qualify for the knockout rounds. Meanwhile, Northern Ireland will be dreaming big after this win, as they have a great chance of topping the group if they can defeat the mighty Germans in their last match.
Germany 0-0 Poland
Germany failed to get a win against Poland despite dominating for most of the match and enjoying the lion’s share of possession (69%). Interestingly, this was the first goalless draw of this summer’s Euro 2016 tournament.
Lacking a top quality striker, Germany manager Joachim Low opted to play Mario Gotze as a false no.9 yet again, with Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil operating in the hole. However, the Bayern Munich star was constantly drifting into deeper positions in search of the ball, leaving Ozil with nobody to play a pass through to. Perhaps a 4-3-3 system would have suited Germany better, with Gotze as the false no.9, but that would raise the issue of Ozil’s position in the system.
Low brought on Andre Schurrle and Mario Gomez for Gotze and Julian Draxler in order to give the wingers more of a target to aim at up front. However, the system did not quite work out, and it seems as if Low would have to get back to the drawing board in order to sort this problem out.
Player of the match: Toni Kroos
Kroos had yet another good outing against Poland on Thursday, despite the fact that his team failed to get the win. The Real Madrid midfielder was the creator-in-chief from the middle of the park, playing 100 accurate passes at an accuracy rate of 93% according to WhoScored. He also played three key passes during the game.
It is a rather simple equation for Germany ahead of their last group stage game. A win against Northern Ireland will ensure that they progress to the knockout stages as group winners, while a draw will also take them through.
It is the same equation for Poland, who need to beat Ukraine in their final Group C match. In fact, the Poles could finish ahead of Germany if they finish with a superior goal difference. A draw will also be good enough to take them through.