Derby Day at Euro 2016
Day 7 at Euro 2016 is derby day, with two sets of near neighbours facing off against each other.
First up in Thursday’s series of three matches is England against Wales, which completes Group B’s second round of games, then Group C comes to the fore later in the day.
Northern Ireland take on Ukraine, with both sides desperately needing a result after losing their opening matches, before great rivals Germany and Poland meet at Paris’ Stade de France.
This could be one of the very best days of the tournament – so here are our fantasy football picks.
England fantasy player to watch – Adam Lallana
England were among the most impressive attacking sides during the first round of games, but a late defensive lapse cost Roy Hodgson’s men victory as Vasili Berezutski rose highest in the box to send a looping header over the head of Joe Hart to snatch a point in injury-time.
However, there were plenty of positives for England, with Adam Lallana particularly sharp in the right-sided attacking role in Hodgson’s 4-3-3. Lallana’s poor finishing was costly – he had two of England’s best chances but picked out Igor Akinfeev and shot over the crossbar – but the Liverpool attacker was a key cog in the Three Lions’ machine and will be an important outlet here.
Wales fantasy player to watch – Gareth Bale
Still an obvious pick, but it is impossible to see beyond Gareth Bale for a Wales fantasy football selection. Bale spent much of Wales’ 2-1 victory against Slovakia on the periphery of the action, but it took him just nine minutes of play to make his mark on Euro 2016.
Bale rarely gets to take set-pieces for Real Madrid – a certain Cristiano Ronaldo tends to step up for the Spanish giants – but for Wales he is the first choice free-kick taker, so there was anticipation in the air when Jonny Williams cleverly won a foul 25 yards from goal. Bale’s strike was perfect, viciously swerving away from goalkeeper Matúš Kozáčik to open the scoring.
England will be a step up in class, but former Premier League star Bale is certainly up for this game, even claiming that none of Hodgson’s players would get into Chris Coleman’s Wales team.
Ukraine fantasy player to watch – Andriy Yarmolenko
Ukraine will likely see Northern Ireland as their best chance of taking three points in the group, after being beaten 2-0 by Germany in their opening match at Euro 2016.
It said it all about Ukraine’s ineffectiveness on the ball that their star man in that game was their goalkeeper, Andriy Pyatov. Northern Ireland should allow Ukraine more possession, which will enable Andriy Yarmolenko to be more involved. Yarmolenko struggled to make an impact against Germany but still created Ukraine’s best chance, which was spurned, and their goalscoring hopes rest mainly on his shoulders, as well as those of his fellow winger Yevhen Konoplyanka.
Northern Ireland fantasy player to watch – Kyle Lafferty
Kyle Lafferty shook off a knock to start up front in Northern Ireland’s first game of the tournament, a narrow 1-0 loss at the hands of Poland, and if they are to make it through the group stage of Euro 2016 they will certainly need their star man to fire against Ukraine.
Lafferty was Northern Ireland’s top goalscorer in qualifying but he found chances at a premium in the Poland match, with an overhead kick opportunity he manufactured for himself the closest he came to scoring. Northern Ireland desperately need a win here if they are to qualify, as Michael O’Neill’s side are facing world champions Germany in their final match of the group stage.
Germany fantasy player to watch – Toni Kroos
Neighbours Germany and Poland met in qualifying for Euro 2016 and they come up against each other in the group stage of the finals too. Germany were arguably the best team of the opening round of games, playing some sublime football as they brushed Ukraine aside with a 2-0 win.
The star man of a sparkling passing performance was without a doubt Toni Kroos, who earned a 9.41 rating from WhoScored for his near-faultless display on the ball. Kroos has sometimes received criticism for a perceived lack of dynamism on the ball – as well as his lack of direct assists and goals – but there were plenty of signs he is ready to grab this game by the scruff of the neck.
Poland fantasy player to watch – Robert Lewandowski
Of all the A-list talent on show at Euro 2016, Robert Lewandowski has been arguably the biggest disappointment so far. The Poland number 9 struggled to get in the game against Northern Ireland, getting embroiled in a running battle with centre-back Jonny Evans that acted as a distraction, so it was left to attacking colleague Arkadiusz Milik to score the only goal of the game.
There will be plenty of familiar faces in the opposition line-up for Lewandowski, with a number of his Bayern Munich team-mates likely to be in the Germany team. Jerome Boateng will be the main Germany defender charged with marking Lewandowski out of the game, while if the striker gets free he has to find a way to beat goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, also the team’s captain.
Lewandowski hit 42 goals for Bayern last season and the pressure is now on him to deliver for Poland at the European Championship.