The Group Stage of the 2016 European Championships ended this morning, with a number of nations gaining shock entry into the Round of 16.
Underperforming nations England and Portugal have snuck through while current tournament holders Spain have a chance of taking home a third consecutive win.
Host nation France were unconvincing in topping the group on seven points after snatching late wins over Romania and Albania. France were kept scoreless in a 0-0 stalemate with Switzerland. 29-year-old Dimitri Payet was unearthed as a national hero after he scored two stunning goals in the first two games for France. Albania proved to be no easy-beat with admirable performances against Switzerland and France, although they lost both matches before they finished strong with a 1-0 defeat of Romania. Romania failed to score a goal from regular play and ended up last on one point.
England put off-field fan drama aside to scrape through in second place while remaining undefeated. They were beaten to the top spot by Wales. England managed their only win of the group over their British counterparts after Daniel Sturridge scored a late winner. Slovakia qualified third after drawing with England and disposing of Russia, who managed only a point against England. Wales hammered Russia 3-0 to glide into first place after they held off Slovakia in the first match.
Germany and Poland could only be separated by goal difference after the Germans had a bigger win over Ukraine to steal first spot in the group. Both teams failed to score in a 0-0 draw between each other, despite a number of key chances that went begging. Northern Ireland has managed to qualify for the Round of 16 from third place after a 2-0 victory over Ukraine, who will bow out of the tournament as the only team not to earn a point.
Croatia recovered from blowing a 2-0 lead against the Czech Republic to come back from a goal down and condemn Spain to second place. Turkey struggled to find the net in their first two matches before scoring twice to restore hope of qualifying through third place. Spain only just managed to beat the Czechs before a comprehensive win over Turkey ensured qualification. Czech Republic demonstrated their fight after almost holding off Spain for 90 minutes while they scored two goals against Croatia in the last 15 minutes to keep the scores level.
Italy’s defensive-minded play drew plenty of criticism, although they managed two wins from three games. With manager Antonio Conte stepping down from the helm at the end of the tournament, his effective style of play can get Italy past Spain in the next round. Belgium suffered a humiliating 2-0 defeat to Italy before responding perfectly with wins over Ireland and Sweden. Zlatan Ibrahimovic bid farewell to international football after Sweden only managed a draw with Ireland, despite competing well in all of their games. Ireland somehow produced a late winner against Italy through midfielder Robbie Brady to qualify third.
Two of the tournament’s underdogs, Hungary and Iceland progressed while beating Austria and Portugal to the top two spots of Group F. Neither side was defeated as they both drew against each other, drew with Portugal and defeated Austria. Austria endured a difficult tournament after a talented squad drew with Portgual. Portugal failed to beat any team in their group, however they qualify for the Round of 16 in third place to face a tough Croatian side.
Round of 16 fixtures
Switzerland vs Poland
Wales vs Northern Ireland
Croatia vs Portugal
France vs Ireland
Germany vs Slovakia
Hungary vs Belgium
Italy vs Spain
England vs Iceland