The group stage is over and we are now moving on to the first ever Round of 16. The games had a different feel to them as 4 third place teams advanced to the knockout stages. One of the other major storylines has been fan violence. The Russia and English fans clashed multiple times in Marseille as well as after the game ended, Russian fans appeared to attack the English fans in the corner. The Croatian fans have used flares and firecrackers to cause delays and make trouble for the Croatia FA in protest. Let’s hope that the fan violence comes to an end and the level of play on the field increases as we go on in the competition. Here is a quick recap of each group.
France, Switzerland, Albania, Romania
The hosts started the tournament with a 2-1 win over Romania. A star was born in this game as Dimitri Payet took center stage and scored a beautiful game winner. He was the best player for France. Switzerland defeated Albania in the first game that feature brothers on different teams. In the second round Romania and Switzerland would draw and France would defeat Albania thanks to 2 very late goals. Going into the 89th minute the game was 0-0. It finished 2-0 thanks to Griezmann and Payet. The final round would see Albania score their first ever goal in a European Championship and first ever win as they defeated Romania 1-0. Switzerland and France knew they were going to finish either 1st or 2nd and they played out a boring 0-0 draw. France and Switzerland would advance. Albania finished as the first third place team and did not advance.
Wales, England, Slovakia, Russia
Group B started with a first ever tournament win for Wales thanks to a first half goal from Gareth Bale and then a late winner from Robson-Kanu. England player very well against Russia but their 1-0 lead thanks to Eric Dier was canceled out in the 92nd minute by a header from Berezutski. In the second Round, Slovakia came to life as Weiss and Hamsik would put Slovakia up 2-0 and get them their first win of the tournament as they beat Russia 2-1. Wales would get an early lead thanks to Bale again against England; however, England would bring on Vardy and Sturridge at half time and both of them would score to give England a 2-1 win. In the final round, Wales defeated Russia 3-0 and they would win the group. In the other game, Slovakia and England would draw 0-0. This was enough to get both England and Slovakia to advance. Wales would top the group, England finished second, and Slovakia would advance as the best third place team.
Germany, Poland, Northern Ireland, Ukraine
Group C featured the World Champions, as Germany would start the tournament with a 2-0 win over Ukraine. Poland also got off to a good start with a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland. In the other game on matchday 2, Northern Ireland would defeat Ukraine 2-0. This was there first ever win in a major tournament. Both Germany and Poland would run away with the group as they drew 0-0 with each other and both win 1-0 on the final matchday against Northern Ireland and Ukraine respectively. Germany won the group thanks to a better goal differential. If Poland had scored 1 more goal then it might have come down to fair play. Poland would finish second and Northern Ireland would advance as well as the fourth and final third place team. Ukraine was the only team not to score a goal in this tournament.
Croatia, Spain, Turkey, Czech Republic
This group featured two teams that played some brilliant football in the first round. Croatia defeated Turkey 1-0 thanks to a suburb volley by Modric, probably on of the better goals of the group stage. Spain would play some great football lead by Iniesta but would need a late goal from Pique to defeat the Czech Republic. In the second round, Croatia would build a 2-0 before the Czech republic would come back. Flares and fireworks that seemed to disturb the Croatia players aided their comeback. The game would end in a 2-2 draw. Spain would defeat Turkey 3-0 thanks to Morata and Nolito. In the final round, the headline game was Croatia vs. Spain, winner of this game wins the group. Morata would open the scoring but a late first half goal from Kalinic would give Croatia hope. Late in the second half, Perisic would win the game and the group for Croatia. In the other game, Turkey would finaly get on the board and defeated the Czech Republic 2-0. Turkey would finish third but they were the fifth third place team and they did not advance. The Croatia win means that one half of the bracket is loaded with winners.
Italy, Belgium, Republic of Ireland, Sweden
This group was an interesting one as it started with a 1-1 draw between Ireland and Sweden and a shocking 2-0 win for Italy over Belgium. Not many people thought that Italy would be any good but they got off to a start. Belgium would respond in the second round as they defeated Ireland 3-0 including 2 goals for Lukaku. Italy would continue their winning ways and clinch the group with a 1-0 win over Sweden. On the final matchday, Ireland would need a win and Belgium to win to advance. Within 2 minutes of each other, Naingolan would score for Belgium to give Belgium a 1-0 win over Sweden and Robbie Brady would score to give Ireland the win and a place in the knockout stages. Italy would win the group and their prize is Spain. Belgium would come in second and Ireland in third. The Irish have advanced to the knockout stages as the second best third place team.
Hungary, Iceland, Portugal, Austria
I am pretty sure no one saw this coming. Hungary looked great in the first game and Austria looked off the pace of the game. Hungary would start the tournament with a 2-0 win over Austria. Portugal and Iceland would play to a shocking 1-1 draw for Iceland’s first ever point in a major tournament. In the second round, Hungary would earn a late draw against Iceland. Portugal and Austria would play to a scoreless draw. During the final round, Iceland would defeat Austria 2-1 thanks to a 94th minute goal by Traustason. In the other game, Hungary would draw 3-3 with Portugal. Hungary took the lead 3 times in the game but each time Portugal found an equalizer including 2 from Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal would advance as the third best third place team. Hungary would win the group and Iceland would finish second.
The knockout stage is set. The bracket looks a little lopsided to me. On one side there are 9 European Champions as Germany and Spain have won 3 times each, Italy has won once, and France has won twice. On the other side of the bracket, no team has won the European Championships. This is going to be a fantastic summer for one nation.