France 2-1 Albania – 10 June 2016
After a fairly uneventful first hour, I remarked that I hoped this wasn’t going to be a sign of things to come for the tournament. Then, right on cue, and a reason why I never win at the bookies, a Dmitri Payet-inspired France scored two dramatic late goals to snatch victory from the jaws of a draw, which ensured that the hosts got off to a winning start in front of an expectant Parisian crowd.
Germany 2-0 Ukraine – 12 June 2016
Despite the German’s dominance, Manuel Neuer was still forced into making a couple of good saves to deny the Ukrainian’s who kept plugging away in search of a way back in the game. In the last few minutes, with the world champions leading 1-0, talismanic figure Bastian Schweinsteiger came on and, after a lung-bursting run, latched onto a pin-point Mezut Özil cross to coolly finish and make it 2-0. The joy on Schweinsteiger’s face was palpable, and it showed how much it meant to him. I’ve not researched this but I think he covered more distance during his small cameo than he had all season for Manchester United.
Belgium 0-2 Italy – 13 June 2016
Even though this is far from a vintage Italy side, I still had them picking up at least a point in this game against the supposed individual brilliance of the Belgium team. My thoughts were further confirmed during the national anthems, as daft as it sounds, when the limp Belgian effort was absolutely blown away by a fiercely passionate rendition from the Italians. Leading the chorus was the timeless legend Gianluigi Buffon, who at 38 could be forgiven for taking his foot off the gas. Instead, he sung his heart out during the anthems and then provided a great display between the Italian sticks, using every minute of his 38 years experience. A deserved victory for the team over the overhyped Belgians who proved that you don’t win football matches on paper.
Ukraine 0-2 Northern Ireland – 16 June 2016
Once again Ukraine were one nil down heading into injury time, when Northern Ireland broke. Perhaps showing their naivety, when a more-established team might have taken the ball in the corner, the Northern Irish pressed for a second goal. The crowd erupted and the Northern Irish registered their first ever victory in a European Championships, and their first in a major tournament since 1982.
Spain 3-0 Turkey – 17 June 2016
People love to knock others down when they reach a pinnacle, and there have been plenty enjoying the so-called demise of Spain, the team who won three major tournaments in a row between 2008 and 2012. After a poor World Cup in Brazil in 2014, the Spanish didn’t hold the same fear that they once did, especially after stalwarts such as Puyol and Xavi retired without being adequately replaced. After a laboured opening day victory against Czech Republic, Spain clicked into gear in the second game against Turkey and it was a joy to behold. It was the first game in the tournament where a team managed to score three goals, showing how keenly fought all previous games had been. Okay, the Turks seemed to give up after the first goal but Spain, driven by the wonderful Andres Iniesta, were a joy to watch. It was nice to see the influence of newcomers Nolito and Alvaro Morata, who between them scored all three goals and perhaps herald a new generation.
Portugal 0-0 Austria – 18 June 2016
Goalless draws aren’t always memorable, but seeing the preening prima donna Ronaldo missing a penalty and having a goal chalked off was fairly amusing, especially after his disgraceful comments about Iceland. With the talent at their disposable, if the Portuguese could match the spirit of Austria, Iceland and Hungary they’d be a real threat at this tournament.
France 0-0 Switzerland – 19 June 2016
After enjoying the tournament so far, the France-Switzerland 0-0 was a bit of a let down. France rested several key players, despite a weeks break looming, and the most exciting occurrence in the match was the splitting of several Swiss shirts, which prompted Xherdan Shaqiri to remark: “I hope Puma don’t produce condoms”.
Wales 3-0 Russia – 20 June 2016
Roy Hodgson rested several players in the final game and England could only draw 0-0 with a spirited yet basic Slovakia team. People were screaming for Vardy and Sturridge to start and they did, yet England had no creativity and just couldn’t pick the Slovakian lock. It only took three England games for the knives to come out, with Hodgson the inevitable target. The Welsh meanwhile destroyed a demoralised Russia 3-0 to top the group, with Gareth Bale bagging his third goal in as many games.
Spain 1-2 Croatia – 21 June 2016
After their second game I described how Spain had finally clicked, and that statement seemed to come undone as they took on the fancied Croats. Despite taking the lead and missing a penalty, Spain somehow managed to lose, with David De Gea uncharacteristically culpable for both goals.
Ireland 1-0 Italy – 22 June 2016
In a repeat of the 1994 World Cup match, Ireland beat Italy 1-0 and progressed to the second round as one of the best third-placed teams. It was a weakened Italy team, knowing they were already through, but as the old cliché goes you can only beat what is in front of you and the Irish deserved to win. Wes Hoolahan will be one relieved man though, after it looked like he had fluffed Ireland’s best chance late on. Showing great character, a couple of minutes later he made amends with a superb Messi-esque ball into the box which Robbie Brady nodded in. The fans, matching their brothers from the north of the Emerald Isle, were simply superb. Roy Keane, for once, looked moved by emotions and close to tears and it was wonderful to see such an outpouring of joy from him.
Hungary 3-3 Portugal – 22 June 2016
If certain groups ended with a whimper, Group F was certainly not one of them. Ronaldo finally turned up, scoring two of Portugal’s goals as they drew 3-3 with Hungary in a pulsating end-to-end encounter reminiscent of a basketball match. In the other game, Iceland continued their amazing story by beating Austria 2-1 and qualifying in second place ahead of Portugal. The Icelanders could be forgiven for celebrating as if they had won the tournament.
Second Round Draw (fixtures to begin on Saturday 25 June)
Switzerland vs Poland
Wales vs Northern Ireland
Croatia vs Poland
France vs Ireland
Germany vs Slovakia
Hungary vs Belgium
Italy vs Spain
England vs Iceland