Northern Ireland’s best and worst possible Euro 2016 group

For the first time ever, the draw for the European Championships group stage will include Northern Ireland.

In booking their maiden spot in the summer tournament, Michael O’Neill’s men created history with superb play and convincing results. They didn’t sneak into the summer tournament in France, instead they topped their qualifying mini league.

They won six of their 10 games, beating former winners Greece home and away in the process, and lost just once.

Despite that, they understandably rate as 250/1 longshots to turn their first ever Euros jaunt into a trophy-grabbing one.

But off the back of such a momentous qualifying campaign, O’Neill will certainly not expect his charges to perform like the second-worst side in the competition, as the odds suggest. Instead, his side will fear no one and target a spot in the knockout phase.

If they are to get there then a kind group draw would be needed, but who are the best opponents from each pot that Northern Ireland could face? And who are the worst?

Best Group

NI-Best-PSDBased on head-to-head records and separated by points-per-game, the best possible opponent from the top pot would, surprisingly, be defending champions Spain.

The Green and White Army have a marginally better record against Vicente del Bosque’s men than Portugal, who they’ve never beaten but have three draws in five games against.

An undefeated history against Switzerland and Sweden complete their ideal rivals, although Russia and Poland aren’t bad alternatives having lost a combined five times in 11 games against Norn Iron.

Worst Group

NI-Worst-PSDThis is Northern Ireland’s idea of a group of death. They’ve lost all three games against France and can only claim one draw in five against pot-two giants Italy.

Perhaps unexpectedly, it’s Slovakia that complete the nightmare, having toppled Northern Ireland home and away in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.