Joachim Loew’s world champions Germany face Northern Ireland on Tuesday seeking top spot in their group and a place in the Euro 2016 knockout phase while title-holders Spain are out to avoid a heavyweight clash with Italy down the line.
A draw in Paris would be enough for Germany to progress to the last 16 in Paris, and Poland can join their neighbours by avoiding defeat to already eliminated Ukraine in Marseille.
Spain are already assured of reaching the next round as they seek a third consecutive European crown, but Vicente Del Bosque’s side want to clinch top spot in Group D when they face second-placed Croatia in Bordeaux.
Czech Republic could poach the other automatic qualifying berth should they beat Turkey and Croatia lose. But coming second, instead of third, in that group could prove a poisoned chalice.
Meanwhile, Russian far-right football fan leader Alexander Shprygin was expected to be expelled from France for a second time on Tuesday after he sneaked back into the country to watch Russia play Wales on Monday.
Shprygin had been thrown out of France with 19 other Russians on Saturday for suspected links to the violence before the England-Russia match in Marseille on June 11, but he popped up at Russia’s 3-0 defeat to Wales in Toulouse. He was promptly arrested.
– Labouring Germany –
Germany laboured to a 0-0 draw with Poland last Wednesday, after which Loew lambasted a toothless display, but they remain in pole position in Group C.
Mats Hummels, who returned after missing Germany’s opening 2-0 win over Ukraine through injury, said the Germans must be wary of Northern Ireland at the Parc des Princes.
“We know they could get the confidence to beat us if we let them.
“We have to try to be the better team from the beginning so they don’t start believing they can win it,” he said.
Northern Ireland, who beat Ukraine 2-0 in their second game, are guaranteed to finish no worse than third. But an improbable victory could propel Michael O’Neill’s side to the top if Poland slip up against Ukraine.
“I don’t think there’s any tension. I think this is a special moment,” said O’Neill.
“We have to obviously try and get a result and get to the next phase of the tournament. It’s as simple as that.”
A point for Poland would secure their place in the last 16, but all three teams remain in the running to finish first.
– Roads to the final –
Spain strolled into the second round with victories over Czech Republic and Turkey. But they will face a daunting challenge should they lose to Croatia in their final game.
With Italy guaranteed to finish top of Group E, whoever finishes second in Group D will likely have to get past the Euro 2012 finalists and then Germany to reach the semi-finals.
Hosts France or England could then stand in the way of a place in the July 10 final, but midfielder David Silva is confident Spain will steer clear of that perilous path.
“At this stage it is normal that they make you favourites. We have won the last two European Championships and also for the games in the past few days,” he said.
“We have had a very good start. We need to win or draw to stay top of the group. We need to maintain our level and if it remains so high, we can win the tournament.”
The English press meanwhile turned on manager Roy Hodgson, accusing him of weakening the team by making too many changes, leading to the goalless draw with Slovakia which left England as runners-up to Gareth Bale’s impressive Wales.
The Times, The Sun and The Daily Mirror all branded England “second rate”, while The Daily Express dubbed Hodgson’s men “Toothless Lions”.
Croatia could be without midfielder Luka Modric after the Real Madrid star hobbled off in Friday’s 2-2 draw with Czech Republic. Key striker Mario Mandzukic is also an injury doubt.
Hardcore supporters of Hajduk Split, suspected of throwing flares that temporarily halted play against the Czechs, have threatened to disrupt the Spain game.
UEFA fined the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) 100,000 euros ($113,000) for the flare incidents.
Czech Republic and Turkey must both must win to maintain any hope of progressing with the latter yet to register a goal or a point.
Veteran Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a hamstring problem. – Agence France-Presse