Northern Ireland could struggle to contain a free-scoring Poland side on Sunday.
Poland were the highest scorers in qualification and their opponents in their opener are Northern Ireland, who take part in their first major tournament for three decades. The Northern Irishmen are odds-on across the board to finish bottom of Group C and anything other than a wooden spoon will be a huge achievement in what’s a very difficult pool.
Poland head into the tournament in solid form, having won five of their last seven matches going back to their last qualification game, netting at least twice in four of these matches. Perhaps more significant though is their record as the higher-ranked team: W13-D2-L0 since 2013 as they netted at least four times in eight of these matches. Key to their impressive scoring record has been Robert Lewandowski who comes into the tournament after a fantastic season with Bayern.
Northern Ireland are used to being underdogs. They advanced through to the finals as group winners in Group F despite being ranked lower than four of the other five teams. Furthermore, they scored five more goals than other side while conceding the second fewest. Despite their success in getting here we still have them ranked as the second-lowest in France 2016 (above only Albania) and Poland are a much tougher test than they faced in qualifying. Northern Ireland have faced teams ranked between 26th and 50th13 times since 2011 and they’ve won just twice while losing eight times. While they’ve certainly improved going forward in recent years they’ve struggled to scare better teams. In the 13 games they’ve failed to net 10 times and that puts us off backing Poland with both sides scoring.
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Looking at a wider trend, there have been 14 matches since 2013 in the group stages of major international competitions where a team have faced a side ranked 15-35 places lower than themselves and the stronger team has come out on top 10 times including W6-D1-L0 in Brazil 2014. Given Poland’s attacking prowess and Lewandowski’s hot form it’s impossible to ignore him at 2.0 to score anytime and given how easily they’ve dispatched lesser opposition in the past we wouldn’t put anyone off him to score at least twice at 5.5 or a memorable hat-trick at 26.0. The tempting prices don’t stop with the Bayern striker. The 1.73 available generally is a great selection but given how free-scoring Poland have been in recent times, the best play looks to be siding with them on the Asian Handicap.
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