The final whistle has just gone in Portugal and Iceland and with it the first round of group games are done and dusted. It has been a fascinating first few days of Euro 2016, with every game competitive until the dying moments.
Indeed only two of the twelve games played so far have seen a two goal margin separating the teams and both of those goals came late in Germany v Ukraine and Austria v Hungary.
The tournament started last Friday, with hosts France having to rely on a stunning strike from West Ham’s Dimitri Payet late on to secure a 2-1 victory over Romania. The other two teams in that group met Saturday afternoon with an early goal sealing a 1-0 victory for Switzerland over Albania.
Saturday evening saw the Welsh take centre stage in Bordeaux as they met Slovakia. They got off to the perfect start, through none other than Gareth Bale. The Real Madrid star wrong-footing the Slovak keeper with a free-kick.
The Slovaks equalised in the second half but the men in red weren’t to be denied and a late scuffed shot by Hal Robson-Kanu was enough for them to take the spoils.
It was turn of England and Russia Saturday night. The build-up to the game had been marred by trouble between the fans in Marseille and there were more incidents in the stands after the match.
It was a game that England dominated for large parts and thoroughly deserved to take the lead in the 73rd minute through an Eric Dier free-kick. They seemed to be home and hosed entering stoppage time only for a looping header from Vasilli Berezutskiy to deny them at the death.
Croatia produced one of the most impressive performances of the tournament to date against Turkey on Sunday afternoon. Despite only winning 1-0, the scoreline flattered the Turks, as Croatia completely dominated the tempo throughout. Dark horses for the tournament possibly!
A contender for goal of the tournament in this one too as Luka Modric cracked home a stunning volley. Elsewhere in this group Spain needed an 86th minute Gerard Pique goal to beat Czech Republic on Monday.
Sunday also saw Northern Ireland make their debut at the European Championships and they found the going tough against Poland. The Poles pinned the Ulstermen back for the majority of the game and got their reward when Arkadiusz Milik fired home shortly after the break.
Michael O’Neill’s side couldn’t create anything of real substance to trouble their opponents and their first appearance at a major tournament in 30 years ended in defeat. Their next opponent Ukraine met the World champions Germany later that evening and it was the first game of the tournament that was decided by more than one goal.
Shkodran Mustafi and an injury-time Bastian Schweinsteiger strike enough for the Germans.
Monday was D-Day for the Irish as we met Sweden at the Stade de France. Excitement and anxiety swept the nation, as we remembered our last appearance at the tournament just four years before, which ended without a point.
With the pre-match analysis dominated by Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it was Ireland who took control of the game after a shaky start. They couldn’t make their dominance pay in the first half, as Jeff Hendrick was twice denied by the keeper and then the crossbar, Robbie Brady fine strike was just inches too high, while John O’Shea couldn’t get his foot to the ball with the goal gaping.
It felt like we’d missed an opportunity but luckily the boys in green came out in the same vein in the second half. As Séamus Coleman wriggled his way through on the right hand side, his cross fell to Wes Hoolahan who expertly wrapped his foot around the ball, catching it on the half-volley and sending it past Andreas Isaksson in the Swedish goal.
For some reason that goal saw Ireland lose their grip on the game and thus had to soak up pressure. That pressure told in the 71st minute, as Ciarán Clark diverted Ibrahimovic’s cross into his own net.
That equaliser saw Ireland up the ante once more, but it wasn’t enough to get anything more than a point. It was a point that would have been taken beforehand but given that Sweden didn’t manage a single shot on target it may be a result we live to regret.
Later on in our group Italy shocked Belgium as they defeated one of the favourites for the tournament 2-0 in Lyon. Ireland will now meet Belgium on Saturday at 2pm in Bordeaux.
The last group to kick off was Group F on Tuesday. It saw two surprising results with Hungary securing three points with a 2-0 victory over Austria.
In the other game Iceland’s first ever major tournament appearance ended in a draw with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.