What an evening of football it was. The last day of the group stage of the tournament turned out to be the best. Players were worn out and emotions ran high. From Ronaldo scoring twice in a 3-3 draw to Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing his last and Iceland's epic late goal, 22 June at the European Championship had it all.
I could go on and on about Iceland's fairytale story in the tournament, but I'll leave that for another post. I could expand upon Ireland's resilliance in their win over Italy, but again, that deserves its own post. Instead, let's go through it match by match.
Hungary vs Portugal
Hungary had already qualified with four points from two matches. Portugal were on the brink of elimination, having drawn their first two matches. Iceland faced Austria and both of those teams were also in contention for a sport in the Round of 16.
This match was simply unreal as the pendulum switched back and forth between both the sides, each determined to win. Zoltan Gera opened the scoring for Hungary and Nani hit back just before half time for Portugal. Then it was Balázs Dzsudzsá vs Cristiano Ronaldo. Each scoring two goals, one after the other. The last 30 minutes became a nervous affair with both teams trying with all they had to score that elusive winner. Alas, it wasn't meant to be and the match ended in a 3-3 draw.
Iceland vs Austria
Iceland had also drawn their first two matches - one of them included a heartbreaking own goal against Hungary - and were in the same position as Portugal. Austria had just one point from two matches but a win would have propelled them into the next round. Iceland though, the underdogs of the tournament, did it, with a late, very lae winner from Arnor Traustason. The tiny island nation of Iceland has done it. They've made it.
Sweden vs Belgium
Sweden, with just a point from their opening two matches, needed a win to qualify. Belgium, with three points, needed a win to secure progression. It was a match filled with emotions.
Belgium, with a late goal - another one after the 80th minute - through Radja Nainggolan meant that this match became Zlatan Ibrahimovic's last. As a ESPN FC headline read, "Belgium send Sweden and Zlatan Ibrahimovic packing from Euro 2016". Irahimovic just never looked liked scoring on the night and that summed up the story of Sweden in this tournament.
Italy vs Republic of Ireland
Italy, with two wins in two matches prior to this game had already qualified. Ireland though, with one point from two games, knew that only a win could save them. Ireland did the improbable. They beat an Italian side that was brimming with confidence. A 85th minute goal was enough to secure a 1-0 victory and a meeting with hosts France in the Round of 16.
The European Championships take a two-day breather and return to action on 25 June with the following round of 16 matches:
- Switzerland vs Poland (6:30 PM IST)
- Wales vs Northern Ireland (9:30 PM IST)