June 03, 2016

A look at the teams and their key players and coach in Group C at the European Championship:

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GERMANY

No false modesty for Germany: The World Cup winners have made it clear that the Euro 2016 title is their next target. But the road to France has proved to be rockier than expected for Joachim Loew's team. Germany failed to beat Ireland in two matches, losing away and drawing at home, and lost to Poland for the first time ever. In the end, Germany produced enough to win the group. But since lifting the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, Germany has had a checkered record, losing friendlies against Argentina, the United States and France. Its next trip to France will be a reminder of the traumatic experience when it lost the friendly while suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Stade de France during the Paris attacks in November.

THOMAS MUELLER: The Bayern Munich forward is the dream and nightmare of each coach. Mueller needs freedom to roam and cannot fit into set patterns. But he has the instinct for being at the right place at the right time. A typical poacher, Mueller will score from half chances and loose balls. Loew has been playing without a true striker since the retirement of Miroslav Klose and Mueller has proved indispensable to the team, scoring nine goals in qualifying.

MANUEL NEUER: The goalkeeper considered by many to be the best in the world. On the line, off the line, Neuer produces spectacular saves. If necessary, far off the line. Neuer will not hesitate to race toward the center circle to clear a long ball and prevent a counterattack. His style is risky and he is not immune from mistakes.

COACH JOACHIM LOEW: Loew brought Germany its fourth World Cup title and the 7-1 thrashing of Brazil in the semifinals enhanced his reputation even before the final. Loew joined the national team as Juergen Klinsmann's assistant in 2004 and became head coach in 2006. Loew is known for meticulous planning and is considered a gifted tactician.

By Nesha Starcevic

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NORTHERN IRELAND

Without an appearance at a major tournament since 1986, Northern Ireland sensed a real chance to end its long wait after being drawn in a qualifying group lacking major names and featuring a fading Greece as top seed. The Northern Irish took full advantage, finishing top of the group and qualifying with a game to spare in front of its most high-profile supporter - golfer Rory McIlroy. It was the first time that a fifth seed has topped a European Championship qualifying group. It will be the first-ever European Championship for a team that makes up for its dearth of star quality with a relentless work rate and good organization.

KYLE LAFFERTY: Barely plays for Norwich, his club relegated from the English Premier League, but transforms into a world-beater when he puts on the green-and-white jersey of his country. Seven goals in nine games made the rangy and aggressive striker one of the top scorers in qualifying. Good in the air and has a taste for scoring late goals.

JONNY EVANS: Anyone with experience of playing for many seasons at Manchester United is welcomed by a country as short of big names as Northern Ireland. Evans was highly rated by former United manager Alex Ferguson because of his reading of the game and tackling at center back, and will need to stand tall in defense with his team expected to come under intense pressure in every game.

COACH MICHAEL O'NEILL: Arrived as a low-key appointment in 2011 but has impressed with his vision of inclusivity, modernization and tactics. He has fostered an excellent team spirit and improved standards in terms of training conditions and logistical arrangements. Players want to play for the diligent O'Neill and the results show it.

By Steve Douglas

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POLAND

Poland can hardly do much worse after finishing bottom of its group without a win on both of the country's previous European Championship appearances. The side will be looking to atone for the particular disappointment of exiting the tournament at the first stage on home soil last time around. Poland is hoping star striker Robert Lewandowski can steer the team through another fruitful period, as the likes of Grzegorz Lato and Zbigniew Boniek did during a golden era for Polish football in the 1970s and 1980s.

ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI: Some believed Lewandowski might struggle at Bayern Munich following his 2014 switch from Borussia Dortmund. But he rose to the challenge and confirmed his status as one of the world's best forwards. If anything, he's only getting better. Clinical in front of goal and dangerous with his back to it - Lewandowski's ball control, strength and industry are a nightmare for opposing defenders - the 27-year-old is undoubtedly Poland's star man and the key to the side's success.

GRZEGORZ KRYCHOWIAK: Another of Poland's foreign legion, Krychowiak is an automatic choice as a defensive midfielder and the only player besides Lewandowski to have played in every qualifying game. The tough 25-year-old, who scored in Poland's 2-1 win over Ireland that clinched qualification, epitomizes the side's hard work ethic and provides tireless displays in the center of the pitch, quickly switching from defense to attack.

COACH ADAM NAWALKA: Nawalka, who played at the 1978 World Cup for Poland, took over in October 2013 following the team's failure to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil. He was coaching Gornik Zabrze, then top of the Polish first division. He had led Gornik to promotion six months after taking over in 2010. He was briefly the assistant to then Poland coach Leo Beenhakker during the qualifying campaign for Euro 2008.

By Ciaran Fahey

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UKRAINE

Much has changed for Ukraine in the four years since it co-hosted the last European Championship. Following a change of government and a conflict in eastern Ukraine, one of the stadiums used for Euro 2012 is now under the control of Russian-backed separatists. Ukraine's footballers, however, have not been deterred by the chaos at home. Ukraine's hard-fought playoff win against Slovenia marked the first time the country had qualified for a European championship, rather than taking part automatically as host. Two narrow losses to Spain in qualifying showed flashes of its potential.

YEVHEN KONOPLYANKA: The hottest property in Ukrainian football last summer, left winger Konoplyanka joined Sevilla for a reported 40 million euros ($44 million) after fierce competition for his signature. After an inconsistent debut season, he was an unused substitute in the Europa League final win over Liverpool. The 26-year-old captained Ukraine in the playoff against Slovenia.

ANDRIY YARMOLENKO: Ukraine is a threat on both flanks with Konoplyanka and the similarly tricky right winger Yarmolenko, who was key this season as Dynamo Kiev reached the Champions League knockout stages for the first time in 16 years. Has said he expects a big-money move away from Dynamo sooner rather than later.

COACH MYKHAYLO FOMENKO: The 67-year-old Fomenko was a European championship finalist on the Soviet team in 1972 and has coached national teams on three continents. Fomenko has an impressive record of 22 wins from 32 games during his three-year tenure with Ukraine.

By James Ellingworth

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