UEFA EURO 2016 – Day 13

Iceland scored a dramatic injury-time winner in a pulsating match to eliminate Austria and set up a last-16 tie against England in Nice on Monday. The contest might have lacked the six goals shared between Portugal and Hungary in the other Group F game, but there were ample opportunities to score that many, plus a scintillating – if cruel – conclusion. There was always likely to be despair for one of these teams – and it happened to Austria after substitute Arnor Ingvi Traustason slid in at the far post to seal a victory that lifted Iceland from third to second in the group. The signs of an entertaining contest were there from the start when Johann Gudmundsson rattled the woodwork in the second minute, before Jon Dadi Bodvarsson ended a sequence of 19 international games without a goal when he controlled a flick-on before shooting low past Robert Almer from eight yards.

Austria should have equalised from the penalty spot – there could have been three spot-kicks given in the match, with both sides denied decent second-half shouts – after Ari Skulason was judged to have pulled back David Alaba. Aleksandar Dragovic, back in the side after suspension, took responsibility but struck the same part of the goal frame as Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo did against his team on Saturday. Substitute Alessandro Schopf equalised with a crisp low strike after a mazy run into the area during an increasingly open second half – and should have found the net again but was denied by Hannes Halldorsson. Kari Arnason made several crucial blocks close to his goal-line, but the decisive third goal came at the other end of the pitch. A nation of 330,000 qualifying from the group stage at their first major tournament is a feat that must be applauded after finishing second in Group F with five points.

Portugal will play Croatia in the last 16 at Euro 2016 after Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice in a six-goal thriller against Hungary in Lyon. A Zoltan Gera half-volley put Hungary in front but Ronaldo set up Nani to fire in an equaliser before the break. Two deflected Balazs Dzsudzsak strikes twice restored Hungary’s lead early in the second half, but a Ronaldo flick and header levelled on each occasion. Hungary progress as Group F winners, with Portugal through in third place. Portugal had been on course to play England in the last 16 as they occupied second place in the group at the final whistle in Lyon, but it was Iceland who claimed the runner-up spot with a dramatic injury-time winner against Austria in Paris.

Portugal, who would have crashed out had they lost to Hungary, have now reached the knockout stage in all seven of their European Championship appearances. Hungary, who were denied a winner when Adam Szalai’s shot hit the post, will now play Belgium, who finished second in Group E. Ronaldo appeared to be feeling the strain of not having scored at the tournament when, during a team stroll ahead of the Hungary match, he grabbed the microphone of a reporter and threw it into a river. The 31-year-old came into the match with no goals from 20 attempts in the first two matches – including a missed penalty against Austria – and cut a forlorn and frustrated figure after Hungary took the lead through Gera’s superb strike. But the Real Madrid star set up Portugal’s equaliser when he played a piercing ball for Nani to drive in a low shot which beat Gabor Kiraly at his near post. And when Portugal twice fell behind to Dzsudzsak after the break, Ronaldo responded by rediscovering his scoring prowess just when it was needed. His first goal – a deft flick from Joao Mario’s cross – made him the first player to score in four different European Championship finals tournaments.

Robbie Brady’s dramatic late winner sank Italy and sent the Republic of Ireland into the last 16 of Euro 2016. Martin O’Neill’s side knew only a victory would secure a place in the knockout stage in France but had failed to find a way through the Azzurri’s defence until Brady headed home Wes Hoolahan’s cross in the 85th minute. That sparked mass celebrations from the Republic players, bench and supporters under the closed roof at Stade Pierre Mauroy, which had largely been taken over by the Boys in Green. Defeat made little difference to Italy, who already knew they would top Group C and made eight changes ahead of Monday’s last-16 match with holders Spain. But the Republic join them as one of the best third-placed sides – and will face the hosts on Saturday – after one of the most famous wins in their history that started a huge party in Lille. Euro 2016 is becoming known for its last-gasp goals so it was perhaps predictable there would be some late drama as the group stage came to a conclusion.

The army of Republic fans certainly never gave up hope, although it had seemed their side had, again, run out of ideas. After managing only one shot on target in their first two group games – Hoolahan’s goal against Sweden – O’Neill understandably went for a more ambitious approach on an all-or-nothing night for his side. But with Jon Walters unfit and veteran striker Robbie Keane only having the legs for cameo appearances these days, the only way he could bolster his attack was by calling on Ipswich striker Daryl Murphy, who is at times prolific in the Championship but has never scored in 20 games for his country. Yet the Republic did look more dangerous, particularly in the first half when Murphy saw a header tipped over and James McClean could, and probably should, have had a penalty when Federico Bernardeschi barged to the ground inside the box. After the break, Italy had looked far more in control until the final few minutes. Hoolahan wasted a golden opportunity when he was gifted the ball on the edge of the box, and it looked like the Republic’s last chance in France had come and gone – until Brady proved otherwise.

Radja Nainggolan’s superb 25-yard strike secured Belgium’s place in the last 16 of Euro 2016 and knocked out Sweden, bringing to an end Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s international career. Victory in Nice meant Belgium finished as Group E runners-up and will face Hungary in Toulouse on Sunday. Sweden exited the competition with one point from three games in which Ibrahimovic failed to score. It seemed Belgium might start matching the expectations around their talented squad with a 3-0 win over the Republic on Saturday. But they laboured to a win against a Sweden side that have been toothless throughout the campaign. Roma midfielder Nainggolan’s 84th-minute swerving right-footed finish, angled into the bottom-left corner via a slight deflection, was a moment of high quality. However, a starting XI that featured six Premier League players and featured just one change from the win over the Republic lacked decisiveness in the attacking third of the pitch.

Kevin de Bruyne was the most industrious option for Marc Wilmots’ team, providing the cross for Thomas Meunier to flash a header wide and putting through Romelu Lukaku for a one-on-one chance which the Everton striker squandered – but they still have plenty of room for improvement. This was probably Sweden’s most effective performance of the tournament – they mustered four shots on target, having not registered a single one in the previous two games. They were unlucky not to lead minutes before Nainggolan’s winner, when Andreas Granqvist’s header was cleared off the line by De Bruyne. But Sweden finished bottom of the group with one point, an unfitting way to end the international career of 116-time capped Ibrahimovic, the country’s record goal scorer. The 34-year-old, a reported target for Manchester United after he left Paris St-Germain this summer, announced this week he would retire from Sweden duty. He failed to add to his 62 international goals and did not register a shot on target until this final group game. His own frustrations were echoed by Sweden, who did not see one of their own players find the net in the tournament – their only goal was scored by the Republic’s Ciaran Clark in the opening 1-1 draw.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.