Games of the Day
Italy vs. Republic of Ireland, Lille, 20:00
Sweden vs. Belgium, Nice 20:00
Italy – 6pts
Belgium – 3pts
Sweden – 1pt
Republic of Ireland – 1pt
As the Italians stride through into the next round, Belgium finally turned up to the party after a 3-0 defeat of the Republic of Ireland.
Both games would appear to be something of a dead rubber in Group E, with Italy and Belgium both favourites to pick up a further 3pts come this evening and whilst Italy potentially have the harder task against Martin O’Neil and Roy Keane’s Republic of Ireland side, it’s hard to imagine much change in the standings.
It seems very strange to say that Italy are a surprise package but given that this current Italian squad was widely regarded as the worse this century, their performance against Belgium was so well thought out and executed it seemed that the Italians could waltz their way to the pointy end of a major tournament once more. Fast forward 4 days and such claims seemed premature as Conte’s side laboured to a 1-0 victory against a massively under-whelming Swedish side.
Belgium on the other hand finally showed a little bit of their attacking potential in this tournament against Ireland and most importantly, Romelu Lukaku may have started to find the form that saw him become one of the Premier League’s most dangerous strikers.
With Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne on the field, Belgium shouldn’t be a team that struggle to create but against Italy, they truly were the second best side. With an assist each, Hazard and De Bruyne appear to be coming into the sort of form that make them so important to Chelsea and Manchester City respectively.
The greatest disappointment in this group though has to be Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Sweden were always going to come to the tournament with a bit of a rubbish 23 but in Zlatan they had at their disposal one of the great enigma’s in modern football. With 50 goals in 55 games this season in all competitions, he was surely going to score at least 4 or just one absolute thronker of an overhead kick like he did against England in 2012. *Editor’s Note: To be fair in that game he scored all 4 goals of the 4-2 defeat of England and in those 4 goals it did include one absolute belter that you can see here – he pretty much ticked all the criteria any one could set out for a man of the match performance.
Instead, he has been truly under-whelming. Whilst Sweden weren’t ever going to be a favourite to get out of this group, I was expecting Ibrahimović to conjure some magical moment of glory. Instead, the aging Swede’s name is to be added to the list of the big players that got lost at the airport this summer.
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog