As the group stage ends, the Euros start getting interesting. It’s only the friggin’ knockouts! Here is a review of all 24 teams that made it too France, so let’s see what teams make the grade…Embed from Getty Images
France – B
Favourites at the start of the tournament but don’t seem to know their best starting XI. Two late wins against Albania and Romania, with thanks to goals by Dimitri Payet, followed by a stalemate against Switzerland, means there is definite room for improvement. Didier Deschamps will be expecting Les Bleus to show their potential against Republic of Ireland in the knockout round.
Switzerland – C
With a strike force as strong as their shirt quality, the Swiss have produced two underwhelming draws and a win over Albania. Incoming Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka, has looked lively and will hope for more against Poland in the last 16.
Albania – C
A well deserving win over Romania gave Albania their first win in a major tournament, scoring their only goal of the group stage in the process. Unlucky to lose to France and Switzerland, a victory against Romania will leave fans feeling hopeful for the future.
Romania – E
Almost recorded a draw against France on the opening day, but struggled to get out of second gear for the rest of the group stage. Losing to Albania to finish bottom of the group sums up the Romanians’ tournament.Embed from Getty Images
Wales – A
The ‘one man team’ have surprised everyone by finding ten other players. Wales were brilliant against Russia, unfortunate to lose against England and well deserving winners against Slovakia. A spine of Ashley Williams, Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale gives Chris Coleman a great foundation to build a successful team. Winning the group puts Wales in a favourable position, as they now avoid Germany, Italy, Spain and France throughout the knockout stages.
England – C
Overpromising and under-delivering since 2002, Roy Hodgson’s men have made things very hard for themselves. England dominated Russia but only managed to score a free kick from the unlikely source of Eric Dier, before conceding in the dying moments. Against Wales, supporters had to wait until three strikers were on the pitch for a victory. Should England progress to the quarter finals they will likely meet France and the host nation will not be looking to watch the rest of the tournament from home.
Slovakia – C
Slovakia took their chances to progress as a third placed team, as they shut out England in a stalemate to finish their group stage. Despite having eleven men behind the ball for most of the game against England, Marek Hamsik and his teammates were victorious against Russia and almost pinched a draw from Wales.
Russia – D
Marred by fan trouble in the stadium and off the pitch, the Russian side almost didn’t finish the tournament after official warnings from UEFA. Russia managed just two goals as they finished bottom of group D after a draw with England and two losses. Most would have expected Russia to qualify and their failure to do so has already seen coach Leonid Slutsky offer his resignation.Embed from Getty Images
Germany – B
The world champions progress from group C as winners but not as convincing as most would have expected. Without a clear out and out striker, Joachim Low’s side have struggled for firepower. Germany have found the net three times but an attacking player, Mario Gomez, has scored just one. It will be interesting to see how they progress and if the men in white find a ruthless streak.
Poland – C
Has Lewandowski been playing? Disappointment for fantasy football managers all round as the Bayern Munich talisman has failed to score during the group stage. Had Poland beaten the already eliminated Ukraine more emphatically, they could have leapfrogged Germany into first place; however, they will have to settle for second and a last 16 fixture against Switzerland.
Northern Ireland – B
What a story. Despite being unbeaten in their last 13 games, knockout football in a major tournament is the stuff of dreams for Northern Ireland fans. A brilliant defensive display prevented Michael O’Neill’s men from losing by a larger margin against Poland and Germany, whilst an emphatic victory against Ukraine gave Northern Ireland the platform to progress to the last 16, where they will play Wales. Will we finally see Will Grigg on fire?
Ukraine – F
With a goal difference of -5, Ukraine became the first team to be eliminated from the tournament and the only team to fail to register a point. An opening defeat against Germany was soon followed by losses against Northern Ireland and Poland. Ukraine showed small hints of promise during their games but failed to capitalise. Their campaign can be seen as little else than a failure.Embed from Getty Images
Croatia – B
Could have been a higher mark had they not let a 2-0 lead slip against Czech Republic after fans threw flares on to the pitch. Croatia started the tournament with a win against Turkey, thanks to an audacious Luka Modric strike, and carried their form through to the first 80 minutes of the Czech Republic game, before condemning Spain to their first defeat in a European championship since 2004. The midfield of Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic is mouth-watering and they have made their route to the final much easier by topping group D.
Spain – B
It seems that no one wants to finish with nine points in the group stage. The reigning European Champions started slow with a late victory against Czech Republic before returning to old ways with a 3-0 victory over Turkey. However, the Croats managed to spoil Del Bosque’s party. Why did Ramos take that penalty? Spain now face Italy in the last 16, which should be a great watch for everyone.
Turkey – D
A win against Czech Republic gave Turkey slim hopes of qualifying as one of the best third placed teams but three points and a -2 goal difference means Faith Terim’s side go home with a whimper. Turkey had lost just once in their last 16 matches and came into the tournament in good stead; however, failure to score in their opening fixtures against Spain and Croatia meant they never really stood a chance in a tough group.
Czech Republic – D
The Czech’s were unlucky to concede a last gasp goal against Spain in their first game, but found their own luck in scoring two late goals against Croatia in a dramatic draw. However, a lacklustre performance against Turkey means they finish bottom of group D in what is surely the last international tournament for Arsenal’s Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech.Embed from Getty Images
Italy – B
The Azzuri started very brightly with a 2-0 win over Belgium and looked a lively team with Conte opting for an unconventional three-man defence. A victory over Sweden followed before the Italians failed to be the first team to finish the group stages on 9 points, losing to an inspired Republic of Ireland side. Italy now face Spain in the knockout stages in the tough side of the draw.
Belgium – C
Ranked second in the world and many peoples choice for tournament winners, Belgium started slow against Italy before finding their feet against Republic of Ireland and Sweden. On paper, the Belgian side is riddled with talent, even without captain Vincent Kompany. However, you have to wonder if this is a team lacking in cohesion and a natural leader without their talismanic centre back. They find themselves in the ‘easier’ side of the knockout stages and are likely to be seen as one of the favourites to progress through to the semi finals at least.
Republic of Ireland – C
The boys in green provided another great story by reaching the knockout stages for the first time in their history. The victory against Italy in the dying minutes started lengthy celebrations in Lille. A very tough fixture against France up next for Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane’s men, they will need better performances than the draw with Sweden and the dismantling at the hands of Belgium.
Sweden – F
One goal and one point in the tournament from the Swedes and that was an own goal against the Republic of Ireland. A very disappointing group stage from Zlatan Ibrahimović and co. as they pack their bags with the other seven teams and will hope for better next time around.Embed from Getty Images
Hungary – B
No one would’ve expected Hungary and Iceland to top this group. A pulsating 3-3 draw against Portugal finished things off for Bernd Storck’s team after a win against Austria and a draw against recent fan favourites, Iceland. Hungary reached the tournament via the playoffs and will be stretched as they play Belgium next.
Iceland – B
If you are an Icelandic man aged between 20 and 40 years old, you have a 2000/1 chance of playing for the national team – shorter odds than Leicester winning the Premiership. An outstanding tournament has seen Iceland draw against the superstars of Portugal and group winners Hungary before a dramatic win against Austria. Whatever happens in the knockout stages, this tournament has been a success for Iceland.
Portugal – D
As soon as the groups were announced, Portugal would’ve been tipped to finish theirs with maximum points. However, football does not work like that and an average start to the tournament means that Ronaldo, Nani, Pepe and others go through by the skin of their teeth as third place finishers. A knockout game against Croatia will require a bit more of a performance than we have seen so far.
Austria – E
Many people, including myself, will be regretting saying “Austria are dark horses for the Euros” two weeks ago. With premier league winner Christian Fuchs, Stoke City regular Marco Arnautovic and Bundesliga star David Alaba in the starting line up, Austria had a great chance to get through the group stages and put their stamp on the tournament. As it goes, they will be heading home and preparing for World Cup qualifiers.
JG, The Sweeper Football Blog