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Euro 2016 team preview: Northern Ireland return to tournament football

Group C: Germany | Ukraine | Poland | Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland had not qualified for a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup, but Michael O'Neill's side were superb in qualifying and fully merit their place in France. There will be little pressure to escape from a tough group, which could work in their favor.

How they qualified: First in Group F

Although they were certainly not the strongest of the group, Northern Ireland impressively came out ahead of Romania, Hungary and 2004 winners Greece. They lost only once, in a defeat in Bucharest, and were a formidable prospect at their Windsor Park home.

How they'll proceed:

Despite a history of pulling off big results -- Northern Ireland have beaten the likes of Spain, England and West Germany in their time -- it would be a big ask to progress from a fiendish-looking Group C. Expect one result that raises the eyebrows but a respectable early exit.

TBD by Editor
Northern Ireland have a history of pulling off shock wins against fancied opposition.

Predicted lineup:

(4-2-3-1); GK: Michael McGovern; DF: Paddy McNair, Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, Craig Cathcart; MW: Jamie Ward, Oliver Norwood, Corry Evans, Steven Davis, Stuart Dallas; FW: Kyle Lafferty.

Key player: Kyle Lafferty

The Norwich striker has played barely any domestic football this season but is of immeasurable value to his country. Seven goals in the qualifiers made all the difference for Northern Ireland, and they will hope Lafferty is sharp enough for more, despite his lack of action.

Manager: Michael O'Neill

The former midfielder, who won 31 caps for Northern Ireland as a player, took the job in 2011 after guiding Shamrock Rovers to an unprecedented Europa League group stage appearance. He has moulded a superbly organised, never-say-die unit that is performing heroics.

Schedule:

June 12 vs. Poland (Noon p.m. ET/4 p.m. GMT; Stade de Nice, Nice)
-- LIVE on ESPN

June 16 vs. Ukraine (Noon ET/4 p.m. GMT; Stade de Lyon, Lyon)
-- LIVE on ESPN

June 21 vs. Germany (Noon ET/4 p.m. GMT; Parc des Princes, Paris)
-- LIVE on ESPN

Games are also LIVE on ESPN Deportes, ESPN FC, WatchESPN and the ESPN app.

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