It has been an underwhelming campaign thus far for the world champions Germany. Joachim Low’s side eased past Ukraine in their opener, but were then held to a 0-0 draw against Poland, meaning their place in the last 16 is not yet confirmed. Tonight, in Paris they face a Northern Ireland side brimming with confidence after a 2-0 win over Ukraine – a result which gave the Irish their first win at a major tournament in 34 years.
Northern Ireland reaquire a victory to guarantee themselves a place in the last 16. They would top the group if they win and Poland fail to record a victory. A draw will be enough to ensure progress to the last 16.
Even defeat may see Northern Ireland advance as one of the best third-place sides, depending on what happens in other groups.
Germany already have four points and will be guaranteed progress if they avoid defeat in Paris.
Northern Ireland coach Michael O’Neill says his players are relishing the Euro 2016 experience and will not be intimidated by the prospect of facing the world champions.
“This is as tough a game as we’ll get at any point in the tournament, but the prize is massive – the potential to go to the round of 16,” he said. “If we can take something from the game – three points or one – we would be in a very strong position. [We must] approach the game in a similar fashion as we did against Ukraine.
“[The players] are really up for it. There’s a real sense of excitement and they’ve recovered well. I think you go into the game full of confidence given the level of performance and the result against Ukraine. Their individual performances on the night were all fantastic as well, so they’re in the right frame of mind.
“These are the moments you really cherish and I’ve no doubt that our players will take that attitude into the game and perform on the night.”
Low missed the press conference as he was suffering from a cold, but his assistant, Thomas Schneider, said Germany would not be take today’s opponents lightly.
“We have always stated that we want to finish top of our group, so whether or not our place in the last 16 is confirmed [on Monday], it will have no impact on our line-up,” he said.
“We respect our opposition. Northern Ireland didn’t qualify as a best third-placed side; they had a great qualification campaign and won their group.
“It is quite possible that there will be one or more changes to the line-up” regardless. And sure, we’ve spoken about moving Thomas Müller up front. Is it going to happen? You will have to wait and see.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill must decide whether to make changes to the side that beat Ukraine.
If he reverts to a more defensive system then Conor McLaughlin and Paddy McNair may come back into the team, as could target man Kyle Lafferty.
Germany coach Joachim Low also has a dilemma whether to stick with misfiring attacking midfielder Mario Gotze up front or use his only out-and-out striker Mario Gomez.
Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil are one booking from a ban.
Northern Ireland: McGovern; Hughes, McAuley, Cathcart, J Evans; Ward, C Evans, Davis, Norwood, Dallas; Washington.
Germany: Neuer; Höwedes, Boateng, Hummels, Hector; Kroos, Khedira; Özil, Götze, Schürrle; Müller.