Northern Ireland face a tough second fixture in Lyon on Thursday evening.
Ukraine gave a decent performance in their 2-0 loss to the World Champions but with Poland beating Northern Ireland in the other Group D opener this match is crucial to both sides’ hopes of advancing. Ukraine put together a four game winning streak in the build up to this tournament, with three of those wins coming against other qualified teams, so they should be confident despite that opening loss. Their record since 2013 against teams we had ranked below them is certainly impressive, as they’ve won 21 and lost just one of 27 matches. That includes a W7-D2-L1 record against teams ranked 40th-90th of which seven had fewer than three goals.
Northern Ireland also came into this tournament with plenty of confidence having been on a 12 game unbeaten streak. However, we still rate them as the second worst side in France this summer and since the start of 2011 they’ve played 18 matches against teams in the top 40 in our rankings and won only twice while losing 13 times and scoring just seven times.
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They certainly didn’t show much attacking flair in their opening game as they failed to register a shot on target. However, they held Poland to a goalless opening half and they’ve not conceded more than once in their last 14 matches so will hope they can frustrate a Ukrainian side that doesn’t pose the same level of attacking threat as Poland. 15 of O’Neill’s 21 competitive games in charge have had fewer than three goals so they are a team that know their limitations and are unlikely to get too adventurous.
Since 1990 we have 66 matches from Euros, World Cups and Copa Americas where a team ranked 15th-30th has been playing a team 20-60 places below them in our rankings. These sides have won 52% and lost 17%, but that makes Ukraine look poor value at their current price. If we look just at opening group stage matches that win rate falls to 49%, including a W6-D7-L3 record in second group games. These 66 matches also have a very high ‘unders’ rate with 71% having fewer than three goals.
Ukraine are clearly the superior side but we can’t back them at their current price and so we’ll take Norn Iron to pick up their first Euro Championship points but with some cover on the handicap, as with their solid defence they should at least avoid being beaten by more than one goal.
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