The final group games of Euro 2016 sees the Rep. Ireland qualify after a late winner against Italy; Zlatan Ibrahimovic retires from international football after Sweden crash out, and much more.
The Republic of Ireland will face the hosts France in the Round of 16 after Norwich City’s Robbie Brady scored a dramatic late winner against Italy under the closed roof at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
Martin O’Neill’s side came into the final Group E game bottom of the table, knowing that only a victory over an already qualified Italy was the only result that would see them progress.
Italian coach Antonio Conte made eight changes from the side that beat Sweden, and it showed. Ireland signified their intent as early as the 9th minute when Jeff Hendrick struck a sweet shot just wide of the Italian goal. There were the fastest out of the block, were the better side throughout most of the first half, and should have had a penalty when James McClean was brought down by Federico Bernadeschi only for the referee to wave play on much to the disgust to the men and women from the Emerald Isle.
Ireland continued to look the more likely side to win the game in the second half but nearly found themselves behind in the 76th minute when Lorenzo Insigne cut inside from the left and curled a shot against the foot of the Irish post with the keeper well beaten. It turned out to be the only Italian chance of note throughout the game.
Ireland’s problem was always going to be scoring, and the best chance of the match dropped to the substitute Wes Hoolahan. With only six minutes remaining a mistake in the Italian defence left the Norwich star clean through on goal only to see him direct a weak shot straight into the mid-drift of the keeper.
At that moment you could have forgiven the whole of Ireland for giving up on their side. They had run their socks off in difficult conditions, and they had just missed one of the easiest chances of scoring they could ever imagine.
Then within a minute, Hoolahan had cleared the cobwebs, curled a peach of a cross into the Italian penalty area and his Norwich City team-mate Robbie Brady arrived right on cue to head home past the hapless Salvatore Sirigu.
It was a goal that Ireland thoroughly deserved, and their fans went ballistic at the final whistle – Ireland progressing as one of the four best third-placed qualifiers. It was an emotional moment for everyone involved in Irish football. Even the Assistant Manager, Roy Keane, smiled.
It was the first defeat in 12 competitive matches for the Italians. They still go through as Group leaders and for their reward, they get to play against one of the best teams on the planet in Spain. Ireland will play France. And Belgium will play Hungary after a 1-0 win over Sweden secured their progression in the runner-up position. Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired from international duty immediately after the match. It was a disappointing tournament for the Swedes who only scored one goal and earned a single point in their three group games.
Group E Results
Sweden 1 v 1 Rep. Ireland
Italy 2 v 0 Belgium
Sweden 0 v 1 Italy
Belgium 3 v 0 Rep. Ireland
Rep. Ireland 1 v 0 Italy
Belgium 1 v 0 Sweden
Group E Table
1st. Italy – 6 pts
2nd. Belgium – 6 pts
3rd. Rep Ireland – 4 pts
4th. Sweden – 1 pt
Group F: Hungary, Iceland and Portugal Qualify
There is little doubt who the surprise package of Euro 2016 is. The Hungarians held the lead on three separate occasions in their final group game against favourites Portugal only for Cristiano Ronaldo to find his shooting boots when he needed them most.
Hungary began the last group game as the only Group F side guaranteed passage into the last 16. Portugal knew a draw would be enough to put them through.
It was an iconic moment for an iconic man. Ronaldo was making his 17th appearance in European Championship final matches beating the record of 16 previously held by Lilian Thuram and Edwin Van De Saar.
Hungary came into the side with only two defeats in their last 12 games, and unexpectedly grabbed the lead in the 18th minute when Portugal cleared their lines from a corner only to see the 37-year old Zoltan Gera smash a sweet half-volley into the back of the net.
Portugal maintained possession without threatening; Ronaldo looked disinterested, and Hungary looked sharp on the break. Then just before half time Portugal got the cold water moment when Ronaldo put Nani through on goal, and the former Man Utd star beat the Hungarian keeper all too easily at his near post.
I don’t know what the managers said to either side at half time, but it had the desired effect. Both teams came out firing with four goals hitting the back of the net within 16-minutes.
After Ronaldo had spurned free kick after free kick in the first half, Balazs Dzsudszak showed him how to find the net from a dead ball situation in the first attack of the second half. The Hungarian’s free kick was deflected off the wall to creep over the head of the Portuguese keeper thus restoring Hungary’s lead.
The mighty Magyars didn’t hold the lead for long. A moment of magic by Ronaldo saw him race to the front post to back-heel a cross into the Hungarian net for his first goal of the championships becoming the first player to score in four European Championships Finals.
Ronaldo’s exquisite finish handed momentum to Portugal, and they looked likely to go on and win the game. Hungary had other ideas. Once again it was that man Dzsudzsak who found the back of the net, and once again it was another deflected shot this time off Nani. Hungary was ahead for the third time.
The only saving grace for Portugal after going 3-2 down was they had plenty of time left to find an equaliser. And Ronaldo ensured the Portuguese were heading into the Round of 16 after he got free of his marker in the box and rose like a salmon to head home from a Ricardo Quaresma cross.
As the Portuguese players trudged off the pitch ready to prepare for a Round of 16 match against England, Iceland gave the television graphics manager a headache in their game against Austria.
It was a goal a piece with seconds remaining in the game when Iceland broke free to score the winner with the last kick. It was a goal that dropped Portugal out of the English cross hairs; Iceland took their place, and Portugal was left to face Croatia.
Group F Results
Portugal 1 v 1 Iceland
Hungary 2 v 0 Austria
Iceland 1 v 1 Hungary
Portugal 0 v 0 Austria
Iceland 2 v 1 Austria
Hungary 3 v 3 Portugal
Group F Table
- Hungary 5 pts
- Iceland 5 pts
- Portugal – 3 pts
- Austria – 1pt
Round of 16 Draw
Switzerland v Poland
Wales v Northern Ireland
Croatia v Portugal
France v Ireland
Germany v Slovakia
Hungary v Belgium
Italy v Spain
England v Iceland