- Associated Press - Friday, June 10, 2016

NICE, France (AP) - Decades since Poland or Northern Ireland made a mark at an international football competition, both teams will be looking to get their European Championship campaigns off to a strong start on Sunday when they play each other in Group C.

Northern Ireland, playing in its first European Championship, has the longest unbeaten run of any team in the competition, while Poland has Robert Lewandowski, one of the most feared strikers at the tournament.

Northern Ireland’s 12-game unbeaten run and first place in its qualifying group were eye-catching but those achievements were helped by a comparatively easy group in which ultimately Romania and Hungary proved to be the biggest threats. Poland arguably arrives with the more impressive record, with only two losses since March 2014 and a victory over world champion Germany in qualifying.

Germany, which plays Ukraine later Sunday, is the clear favorite to top Group C. For Poland and Northern Ireland, their match in Nice offers them a great chance to forge ahead in the battle for second place, which would ensure automatic qualification to the round of 16.

Neither side has accomplished much since their glory days. Poland, which came third at the World Cups of 1974 and 1982, has yet to win a match in its two European Championship appearances, notably in 2012 when as co-host it came bottom of its group.

Northern Ireland hasn’t reached the finals of a major tournament since its second consecutive World Cup appearance in 1986. However, it’s going into the tournament with injury concerns. For a team that’s heavily reliant on players from the lower leagues in English football that’s an additional worry.

One setback is the loss of West Bromwich Albion midfielder Chris Brunt with a knee injury, while forward Kyle Lafferty, the team’s top scorer in qualifying, has had his training interrupted by a groin problem Tuesday. Still, scans allowed Lafferty to return to training the following day.

“Back on the pitch and bring on the Poles,” he wrote on Twitter.

Poland will look to its offensive strength to see off Northern Ireland. Lewandowski, the Bayern Munich striker who was qualifying’s top scorer with 13 goals, and Fiorentina winger Jakub Blaszczykowski form a tried-and-tested partnership in attack. And midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak is a solid presence who helped Sevilla win its last two Europa League titles.

However, the Poles’ final pre-tournament friendlies were less than ideal, with a loss to the Netherlands and a goalless draw with Lithuania, neither of which qualified for Euro 2016.

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