France, Spain and Italy have already reached the knock-out stage; world champions Germany managed only a goalless draw with Poland; Portugal, one of the co-favourites, are threatened by an early elimination; the European newcomers Hungary and Iceland are still in good positions; and Northern Ireland also surprised. A further conclusion shows convincing victories are rare, and defence is the trump card for many of the teams at the 2016 European Championship.
Switzerland reached the knock-out stages with a goalless draw with France, while Albania might also have made it through with a 1-0 win over Romania in the first matches of the third round.
Spain against Turkey, and Belgium versus Ireland brought the highest and most convincing victories, 3-0 respectively. The 2008 and 2012 European champions impressively confirmed that they are well capable of achieving the title hat-trick in France. Morata, with a double strike, and Nolito scored the goals in Nice. After their second win Germany’s national coach Joachim Loew took his hat off to the Iberians, whose 1-0 over the Czech Republic in their opening match of Group D had been tougher: “Spain have been a top team for the last seven, eight years. That’s what they were at the 2014 World Cup finals, despite the defeat by Holland and their elimination in the first round”. Loew emphasised that Spain would naturally be a contender for the final on July 10.
The Czech Republic and Croatia drew 2-2 at St. Etienne in the second match of the second round in Group D. The Croats led 2-0 for a long period after goals by Perisic and Rakitic, but then the 2004 semi-finalists fought back with goals by Skoda and Necid, who converted a handball penalty in the 93rd minute. Ugly scenes broke out in the stands. Croatian fans ignited Bengal flares and threw them on to the pitch.
Belgium dominated Ireland 3-0 in Group E in Bordeaux, thus reappearing among the favourites after their 2-0 loss to Italy. Lukaku (2) and Witsel scored for the “Red Devils”. But coach Marc Wilmots was not totally happy and railed against the Belgian media who had criticised him after the opening defeat. “This criticism comes after four years of success. That’s manipulation“, Wilmots said furiously. “You want to sack me again, but don’t worry. I have got used to it”.
In the second game of Group E Italy once again celebrated a late win, just as against Belgium. The 2012 European runners-up defeated Sweden 1-0. Brazil-born Eder scored the winner in the 88th minute.
Portugal are threatened by elimination in the first round after a goalless draw with Austria, helped by outstanding goalkeeper Robert Almer. Cristiano Ronaldo hit the goalpost from the penalty spot in the 79thminute.The superstar is not totally fit. The 2004 European runners-up did not play badly, but became more and more nervous and finally bad luck and inability led to no goal against Austria at the Parc des Princes in Paris. Because Ronaldo allowed a fan, who had stormed on to the pitch, to take a selfie with him, UEFA is investigating a possible punishment.
After a 1-1 draw with Iceland in Marseille, Hungary remain top of Group F after two rounds. Iceland were leading 1-0 for a long time after Sigurdsson had converted a penalty, but two minutes from time Saevarsson scored an own goal. It was Iceland’s second 1-1 draw, after achieving the same result against Portugal in their opening match. Both teams, Iceland as well as Hungary, still have the chance to reach the round of 16. With four points the Magyars have almost ascertained participation.
As in their opening match against Romania, France again ensured victory with very late goals against Albania in Group A. Griezmann in the 90th and Payet in the 96th minutes ascertained three points in Marseille. Their group contenders Romania and Switzerland drew 1-1 in Paris. Stancu converted a penalty for the east Europeans, Mehmedi scored for the Swiss.
England celebrated their first win in Group B at Lens. In the “Battle of Britain”, as the encounter with Wales was dubbed in the British Isles, the team of manager Roy Hodgson emerged victorious 2-1. Bale gave Wales the lead, but Vardy and Sturridge ascertained England’s victory. The winning goal was scored in the third minute of stoppage time. Previously Russia lost 2-1 to Slovakia in that group. Weiss and Hamsik scored for Slovakia, Glushakov for Russia. This defeat means an early elimination for Russia if they fail to achieve a victory and three points against Wales in their last first-round match. Lille resembled a war zone on match day as police separated rival Russian and British fans after the violence before the first match in Marseille.The small town and venue of Lens neighbours the northern French metropolis Lille, where the various fan groups clashed.
Germany had a hard task against Poland in Group C. The goalless draw at Saint-Denis and the Polish team highlighted the defensive attitude of many teams at these European Championship finals. From a concentrated defence the teams wait for an opportunity to counter-attack and hopefully score.That tactic failed to get results for Poland, despite their super goal-scorer Lewandowski, but they managed to keep the German attack in check. In the first match of the second round in Group C Northern Ireland upset Ukraine 2-0. McAuley shortly after half-time and McGinn in the 96th minute scored the goals for the Britons. Their second defeat almost certainly means elimination for Ukraine.
It is quite a complicated format which will decide who will go through to the round of 16. As four of the altogether six third-placed teams will qualify in addition to the six top and second-placed teams, a ranking must be established for the third-placed teams. The number of points reached within the group counts, then the head-to-head result, then the goal difference. The six third-placed teams will be ranked as follows: 1stmore points, 2nd better goal difference, 3rdhigher number of goals scored, 4thFair Play conduct judged by the number of yellow and red cards, 5th the UEFA consideration of national teams arising from results over past years. The complicated procedure is due to the extension of the tournament from 16 to 24 teams.With the round of 16 the rules become clearer, as in customary knock-out stages. If matches are drawn after 90 minutes, they go to extra time. If they are still undecided after 120 minutes a penalty shoot-out will decide.