The penultimate round of Euro 2016 group matches saw Northern Ireland scrape through to the qualifying stages despite a defeat at the hands of Germany, and Spain will face Italy in the Round of 16 after losing to Croatia.
Germany, Poland and plucky little Northern Ireland all qualify for the Round of 16 as the action in Group C grinds to a halt.
Northern Ireland knew that a point against the world champions would have been enough to send them through to the last 16, but Turkey’s 2-0 win against the Czech Republic means Michael O’Neill’s side make it nonetheless.
The knockout phase would have been a poorer place without the green and white army. Northern Ireland hasn’t set the world alight on the pitch, but their fans have been illuminating off it, and this tournament, more than any, needed fans who preferred singing over fighting.
One man made all the difference, and that was the Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern. The Hamilton keeper prevented the Germans from going in at half time with a glut of goals. The only blot on his copybook was a rare international goal from Mario Gomez, in a walk in the park type of 1-0 win for the Germans.
Germany goes through as group leaders on goal difference. Poland takes the runners-up berth after scoring one fewer than Germany over the course of their three games. Neither side has conceded.
Poland booked their passage into the Round of 16 after a 54th-minute strike from Jakub Blaszczykowski booked a 1-0 win over Ukraine. Mykhaylo Fomenko’s side looked promising in their opening match against Germany, but was miserable against Northern Ireland and Poland and leave without gaining a single point or scoring a single goal.
Poland will face Switzerland in the Round of 16. The match will be played on Saturday 25 June in St Etienne, and they will be favourites to win that game. Croatia is their potential quarter-final opponents.
Group C Results
Poland 1 v 0 Northern Ireland
Germany 2 v 0 Ukraine
Northern Ireland 2 v 0 Ukraine
Germany 0 v 0 Poland
Ukraine 0 v 1 Poland
Northern Ireland 0 v 1 Germany
Group C Table
1. Germany 7 pts
2. Poland 7 pts
3. Northern Ireland 3 pts
4. Ukraine 0 pts
Spain to Play Italy in Round of 16
Spain will face Italy in a sumptuous Round of 16 tie after the reigning champions suffered their first competitive defeat in the European Championships for 12-years.
Yes, that’s not a typo, you have to go back to 20 June 2004 when Portugal beat Spain by a goal to nil to nudge them out of the competition in the group phase for their last competitive loss in this contest.
Croatia has the scalp, and it was as unexpected a defeat and one could have imagined with both sides coming into the last group game knowing they have both qualified for the Round of 16. Croatia was also missing two of their key players in Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic.
A Croatia win looked even less likely when in the seventh minute David Silva threaded a pass through the eye of a needle; Cesc Fabregas delightfully chipped the ball over the Croatian keeper, and Alvaro Morata was on hand to poke the ball home on the goal line. It was Morata’s third goal of the competition putting him in the joint lead for the Golden Boot alongside Gareth Bale.
Spain didn’t pull away. Croatia held them back. Barcelona star Ivan Rakitic nearly pulling the sides level in the 13th minute when a David De Gea mistake presented the ball to the midfielder and his cute lob cannoned off the crossbar and post.
Croatia did equalise before half time. Ivan Perisic breaking free down the right before crossing into the box; Rakitic got the flick on, and Nikola Kalinic finished smartly from the near post. It was the first goal Spain had conceded at the European Championships in 730 minutes of football.
In the second half, both sides traded blows of equal pace and power until Perisic broke away from the Spanish defence in the 87th minute. His low shot beating De Gea at the near post to send them soaring to the top of Group D. Croatia will now face either Slovakia, or the third place finishers from either group E or F.
It’s the Czech Republic who are going home early after they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Turkey. Goals from Burak Yilmaz and Ozan Tufan ensured Turkey finished in third place. Their qualification hopes depend on what now happens in Groups E & F.
And talking about Groups E & F: Sweden and Ireland both need a victory in their final games against Belgium and Italy respectively if they are going to qualify. Belgium can still qualify if they are defeated as long as it’s only by a solitary goal. A point for Belgium will also be enough to see them through to the Round of 16.
Group F is the tightest group of the lot. Hungary has already qualified after taking four points from their first two games. A draw for Portugal will be enough to see them through; a defeat and they are out. A draw will be good enough for Iceland to go through, Austria needs a win.
Group D Results
Turkey 0 v 1 Croatia
Spain 1 v 0 Czech Republic
Czech republic 2 v 2 Croatia
Spain 3 v 0 Turkey
Czech Republic 0 v 2 Turkey
Croatia 2 v 1 Spain
Group D Table
1. Croatia – 7 pts
2. Spain – 6 pts
3. Turkey – 3 pts
4. Czech Republic – 1 pt